Get Help Now

(207) 679-5005

Compassionate Conversations

Issue 29

How to Support Employees Facing Substance Use Challenges

Three out of four people with substance use disorder (SUD) are in the workforce, which means employers need to know how to talk to people with SUD. It’s not always easy, so here are some tips to get started.


How to Identify Someone in Need

Substance use affects the person who is struggling and their family members. Both types of people could be your employees, so it’s important to know how to recognize that someone may need support. There aren’t always signs, but if someone is struggling with substance use or has a loved one who is struggling, you may notice:

• A rapid change in appearance

• Inappropriate verbal or emotional responses

• Calling out sick or unexplained absences

• Irritability

• Leaving early or arriving late


Talking to Someone in Need

Your goal as an employer is to steer your employee to support and resources. First and foremost, know that in any conversation, no matter what the message is, it’s the way you say it that matters.

Below are some helpful tips for a productive conversation:

Don’t lecture:

• Focus on having an authentic conversation and making them feel comfortable.

• Make it clear that you are coming to them because you care about their well-being.

Pick your moment:

• Separate the discussion from disciplinary action.

• Demonstrate that you are interested in talking to them as a caring human being.

Stick to the facts:

• Avoid using phrases such as: “You need to go to rehab,” or “You’ve been drinking a lot.”

• Try to incorporate phrases like: “The company is trying to change the way it handles employee substance use, and we have these resources…”

Keep it brief: You don’t have to offer a solution, but point them to available resources.

Plan to follow up: Tell them you’re worried about them, and ask if you can follow up. Be specific about when and how you will reconnect. Then, be sure to follow through and reach out when you told them you would.

Have a clear understanding of what is available for them: Know the resources your organization offers so that you can help guide them most effectively.

Employers have undeniable power in helping employees get help for their or a family member’s substance use.

A thoughtful conversation from a place of caring can help provide the support needed to make a positive change.

Related Articles


Join the movement to make recovery stories, resources and programs visible!

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sponsored Content

Quick Links