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As well as legal requirements for employers to control risks from substance misuse, raising awareness of alcohol and drugs issues in the workplace has benefits for individuals and for organisations.
The scientific definition of a drug is a substance that alters the way in which the body or mind works.
The term applies to alcohol, drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, prescribed drugs, over-the-counter medication and solvents.
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For most people, drinking responsibly can be part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Meanwhile, the inappropriate use of alcohol can damage the health and well-being of employees and have far reaching effects on their personal and working lives.
Persistent heavy drinking can lead to a range of social, psychological and medical problems including dependence, depression, anxiety, changes in behaviour, irritability, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer of the mouth, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Relationship problems, both personal and work-related, are also at risk, and if not recognised and managed, can lead to more serious consequences.
There are a number of reasons for having a proactive approach to alcohol in the workplace. These include:
Failing to address factors that make a workplace unsafe can place an employer in a serious position as far as health and safety legislation is concerned. There is strong evidence that failing to tackle issues relating to alcohol is costly.
Costs can be due to:
→ Read more on Alcohol as a Workplace Hazard
Substance or drug abuse refers to the over-indulgence in, and dependence upon, a psychoactive drug leading to effects that are detrimental to the individual’s physical or mental health, or the welfare of others. Inappropriate use of drugs may lead to addiction or substance dependence.
As well as the penalties for offences involving controlled drugs, there are well-documented links between drug use and impairments in cognition, perception, and motor skills, both at the acute and chronic levels.
It therefore follows that drug use or abuse may impact on work performance with the potential to cause accident and injury in the workplace.
It is worth noting that over-the-counter drugs and solvents are often misused, and can be as problematic as illegal drugs in relation to the effects that they have on the individual and the impact that it can have on their behaviour.
Health risks depend on the drugs taken and include:
The social risks are far-reaching and include:
The workplace risks are similar to those listed for alcohol. However, there are additional implications for employers in relation to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Employers must ensure a safe working environment, and therefore are required to manage potential risks linked to the inappropriate use of drugs. These include the health and safety case, the legislative case and the business case.
Additionally, there may be serious legal implications under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 linked to any illegal drugs found in workplace premises.
→ Read more on Drugs as a Workplace Hazard
Links to external websites:
Alcohol Focus Scotland The Scottish alcohol charity, with advice, factsheets and more.
Alcoholics Anonymous Information for professionals and recovering alcoholics.
Scottish Drugs Forum The Scottish drugs issues charity, with drugs information, research and more.
Free guidance from NHS Health Scotland:Alcohol in the workplace – a simple guide (external site)
Visit Know the Score (external site) Information and advice on drugs in Scotland for you, parents and professionals
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