When a Family Member Struggles with Substance Use
In the October 2023 issue of Journey Magazine, we talked about how to support an employee who may be struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). But what if it’s not your employee who’s affected by substance use but their family member or loved one? How does that change the conversation?
Signs That an Employee May Have a Family Member Battling SUD
Substance use disorder affects the whole family. When one person struggles, the whole family struggles. There aren’t always signs an employer can recognize when an employee has a family member with an active SUD, but you may see indicators like:
- Reduced productivity
- Becoming easily distracted at work
- Coming in late, leaving early, taking a lot of PTO
- Changes in attitude
Talking to a Family Member in Need
Conversations around substance use aren’t always easy, but as an employer, your goal is to express that you care about your employees and to provide them with resources. Following are some tips to have a productive conversation:
- Set the Right Attitude
- Check your own beliefs about SUD. If you think addiction is a moral failing or if you think family members just enable people with SUD, it will come through in the conversation. It will not help your employees get healthy.
- Be non-confrontational. Ask them what type of support they need.
- Listen. You don’t have to solve the problem. Just be compassionate.
Set the Meeting Up for Success
- Make it clear this is separate from any disciplinary action.
- Have the conversation at the end of the day.
- Ask them if it’s okay to have an off-the-record conversation.
- Set aside time so they can talk. Family members are generally looking for support. They may want to share more than if you were talking to someone about their substance use.
- Share a list of company support programs like EAPs. Walk them through how to access them and what services they provide.
- Let them know which resources are confidential.
- Provide a list of support groups for families like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.
How employers talk about mental health and substance use matters. A compassionate conversation that provides resources for employees with family members struggling with SUD helps break down barriers that keep people from getting support and can lead to happier, healthier employees.