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Addictions in the Workplace: Risk Factors and Therapeutic Approach

James Sussex

Clinical Team Lead

Addictions in the workplace are common yet often go unreported. Substance abuse is one of the leading causes of lost productivity, absenteeism, and accidents on the job. Understanding addiction risk factors will help everyone in management better understand how to head off these issues before they become serious problems. There are many risk factors for substance abuse. Some of these are environmental, while others may be genetic. Often, making the choice to seek help alone feels impossible. This is why it is important that supervisors and managers know the risk factors and how to intervene before the situation reaches a crisis point.

Environmental Risk Factors of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Substance abuse is more prevalent among some demographics than it is in others due to environmental factors. The presence of alcohol or drug abuse in your workplace can lead to higher employee absenteeism, low morale, accidents on the job, and poor-quality work. In most workplaces, these issues can lead to bigger problems and even formal disciplinary actions – therefore, knowledge is power when it comes to supporting addiction issues in the workplace. Environmental risk factors of addiction in the workplace include:

Length of employment and working conditions: Those who work long hours, engage in physically demanding jobs, or work under stressful conditions are subject to developing drug or alcohol problems. These individuals may resort to using drugs or alcohol to deal with stress or as coping mechanisms for boredom or fatigue.

Specialized job functions and high-risk environments: Many jobs involve special conditions that place employees at greater risk for developing substance abuse problems. Substance abuse is most prevalent in occupations that require them to drive long distances, drive at high speeds, work with heavy equipment, or work in high-risk environments. Most employees know the risks of getting injured at work, but some people do not realize that they can be injured on the job as a result of substance use. Workers may be more likely to commit workplace accidents if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and also if they have an awareness of their intoxication level.

Peer influence: Peer influence can be especially detrimental when working with co-workers who are abusing drugs or alcohol. It is easy to go along with the crowd, even when you know it’s wrong. Peer pressure can make it difficult to stand up for your values and confront your peers about their decisions.

Job insecurity: Those who perceive their jobs as unstable are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort, especially when they do not feel like they can rely on anyone in their lives. Certain industries like construction and manufacturing are less stable than others; likewise, zero-hour contracts often lead to stress caused by a sense of insecurity – which is often a pre-cursor to unhelpful coping strategies.

Employee access to drugs: The presence of drugs in the workplace is especially dangerous; it’s more likely that employees will attempt to use them if they are readily available. Although drugs are one example, it doesn’t mean these have to be illegal or illicit – for example, exposure to prescribed drugs or drugs for medical use.

Genetic Risk Factors of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Genetics play a crucial role in substance abuse at the workplace. The following are the genetic factors that contribute to substance abuse at the workplace.

Family history of addiction: People who have a family member with an addiction disorder are more likely to develop an addiction themselves. Approximately 14 to 20% of people will be diagnosed with at least one addictive disorder by the age of fifty.

Personal characteristics: Environmental or genetic risk factors may make it more or less likely that someone will become addicted to drugs or alcohol (Miller, 2021). Certain personal characteristics may contribute to substance abuse problems, like experiencing trauma in childhood, having low self-esteem, or being raised in a household affected by trauma.

Current environment: Those who are depressed, poorly educated, lack motivation, and lack coping skills are among the higher risk demographics for developing substance abuse problems.

Therapeutic Approach

Counseling is used to help people think about, explore, and work on their problems. Counseling is a profession with a long history of providing care for those dealing with numerous issues due to mental health or substance abuse. Counselors provide a lot more than just emotional support. They can offer practical advice and psychoeducation on how to deal with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse problems as well as the various medical complications that often accompany addiction.

Counselors use a variety of techniques based on the client’s needs and preferences. The following are the main techniques/approaches to substance addiction in the workplace.

Self-Assessment: This is a major step in getting one’s current substance use under control. Counselors encourage clients to examine themselves and their situations. There are many questions to ask, including: “What is my level of substance use?” “How long have I been using substances?” “Where did I get started with these substances?” “What activities do I engage in when using them? Do I drink alone, do drugs alone, or with others?”

Assessment: This is a process that helps clients gain a better understanding of their own problems and options for dealing with them. Usually, interview-based, counselors draw on the client’s history of substance abuse behavior and conduct assessments to help guide therapy.

Intervention: This step is also known as “addiction counseling.” It involves modeling healthy behaviors in order to prevent addiction. Counselors can teach clients how to start exercising, eat better, suggest healthier coping methods, and provide support when they are in recovery. Counselors can use interventions designed for specific types of substance dependencies.

Aftercare: This is the part of counseling that helps clients stay in recovery. Counselors ensure that clients continue with healthy behaviors and remain in treatment for a certain amount of time.

Psychotherapy for Workplace Substance Addiction 

Psychotherapy provides a therapeutic space for the client to develop their sense of self, understand their struggles, and learn how they can have a more fulfilling life.

How it is done

Psychotherapy is a very diverse practice and can be delivered in various ways through many different modalities. A goal of psychotherapy is to help clients reach their full potential. Through the professional growth of the client, there are several aspects that can develop into positive results for everyone involved in psychotherapy.

The dialogue that occurs during the psychotherapy session helps clients to understand themselves better. There are certain skills that can be developed through effective psychotherapy, including communication skills, socialization skills, management skills, and body image development among others.

The basic premise of psychotherapy is that people can learn to use their strengths in order to deal with their weaknesses. For example, you may be good at managing your time, but you are unable to control your emotions. This allows people to develop coping mechanisms in order to make themselves more efficient. This is done by implementing the skills that are within the client’s natural abilities or which they do not realize are strengths.

Several different types of psychotherapy are used in the workplace, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), solution-focused therapy (SFT), and art therapy.

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the client’s thought patterns. CBT helps clients identify negative thinking patterns that can make them feel internally stressed or depressed and teaches them how to avoid these patterns through exposure therapy and other coping methods. When a client experiences exposure therapy, they learn to accept and utilize constructive thoughts, which can help reduce the depressive symptoms associated with exposure therapy.

SFT is another alternative type of psychotherapy used in the workplace. SFT is centered on the client’s preferences and what they want out of their life. This includes identifying the problems, finding some solutions for those problems, and executing some actions to bring about those solutions.

Art therapy can be used with clients that are suffering from depression, anxiety, stress disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-confidence issues, and more. These individuals can work through their mental health issues by participating in art therapy sessions where they utilize art supplies to express themselves. The arts are effective because they provide a nonverbal way for people to understand what is going on inside them emotionally.

Addiction is a cycle that can ensnare the victim for years after abstinence. Addiction recovery can be a lengthy and tough process, and in many circumstances, the affected people will require more than psychological will to break free from this destructive cycle. Freedom from addictive behaviors can be reached by a staged process that includes abstinence, tolerance, therapy, and eventually embarking on the path to recovery. Within the context of the workplace, Employee Assistance Programs can be the first step to freedom. The first step – often the hardest – can include calling to have a confidential, non-judgmental conversation about needs and expectations. After what can sometimes be years of tying knots in our shoelaces, a one-step-at-a-time approach can help to break down the journey, and reframe recovery as a manageable, achievable goal. In this way, hope can be on the horizon.


Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit 

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.


Elkins, C. (2020, April 20). Substance Abuse Counseling Techniques. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from

Hoffman, M. (2019, December 04). Counseling and Addiction. WebMD. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from

Miller, L. (2021, November 9). Substance Abuse Treatment: Types of Addiction Therapy & Modalities. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2021). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from

Underwood, C. (2020, December 12). 6 Treatments for Addiction That Are Proven Successful. WebMD. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from


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