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About Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing, and treatable disease. Addiction begins with a conscious choice to use drugs, but addiction is not just "a lot of drug use." Recent scientific research provides overwhelming evidence that not only do drugs interfere with normal brain functioning creating powerful feelings of pleasure, but they also have long-term effects on brain metabolism and activity. At some point, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction. Those addicted to drugs suffer from a compulsive drug craving and usage and cannot quit by themselves.
Job accommodations may include the use of paid or unpaid leave for inpatient medical treatment or flexible scheduling for counseling or to attend support meetings. When, as a part of a job, an individual is exposed to drugs in the workplace (e.g., hospitals, pharmacies), an employer may need to implement additional workplace supports, provide extra supervision, or reassign an individual to a position that does not involve exposure to drugs. JAN's Effective Accommodation Practices (EAP) Series: Executive Functioning Deficits is a publication detailing accommodations for individuals with limitations related to executive functioning. These ideas may be helpful in determining accommodations.
How can you tell if an employee is addicted to drugs?
The following are some of the behavioral characteristics that may occur with drug addiction. Note that these behavioral characteristics do not always indicate drug addiction, but may warrant further investigation.
- Absences without notification and an excessive use of sick days
- Frequent disappearances from the work site, long unexplained absences, improbable excuses
- Unreliability in keeping appointments and meeting deadlines
- Work performance that alternates between periods of high and low productivity
- Mistakes made due to inattention, poor judgment, and bad decisions
- Confusion, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating or recalling details and instructions
- Ordinary tasks require greater effort and consume more time
- Interpersonal relations with coworkers suffer
- Rarely admits errors or accepts blame for errors or oversights
- Progressive deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene
- Wearing long sleeves when inappropriate
- A personality change that includes mood swings, anxiety, depression, lack of impulse control, suicidal thoughts or gestures
- Increasing personal and professional isolation
Can drug addiction be treated?
Yes. A variety of approaches are used in treatment programs to help patients deal with cravings and possibly avoid drug relapse. Through treatment that is tailored to individual needs, individuals can learn to control their condition. There are several types of drug abuse treatment programs. Short-term methods last less than six months and include residential therapy, medication therapy, and drug-free outpatient therapy. Longer term treatment may include, for example, methadone maintenance outpatient treatment for opiate addicts and residential therapeutic community treatment.
Drug Addiction and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Drug Addiction
People with drug addiction may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who are addicted to drugs will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A production worker in recovery from substance abuse needed to attend counseling that was only available in the evenings.
His employer excused him from overtime on the days he attended counseling.
A nurse with drug addiction was restricted from dispensing medication after she was caught using illegal drugs.
Her employer had a policy allowing employees to participate in drug rehabilitation and return to work with a last chance agreement. When the nurse returned to work after rehabilitation, she was reassigned to a job that did not require her to dispense medication and given periodic drug tests.
A call center employee with a history of drug addiction was having difficulty dealing with stress, especially face-to-face discussions with her supervisor about her job performance.
Her supervisor agreed to change her management style, giving performance information in writing.
A substance abuse counselor with a history of drug addiction was having difficulty working with clients while dealing with family problems.
Her employer allowed him to take leave time to deal with his family problems.