May 12, 2020

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Pay Attention to the Warning Signs

Gordon Graham
Category: Public Safety

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol.  

Today I’m going to talk about recognizing warning signs of alcohol or drug addiction in your coworkers. Whether you’re working in law enforcement, the fire service, or corrections, what I’ll talk about today applies to you.  

When you start putting all these warning signs together, you might wonder if an off-duty crash or arrest for a substance abuse-related situation might be coming soon. 

Throughout my years of policing, I’ve seen what we all dread seeing. One of our own got behind the wheel and gets involved in a wreck because they were off duty and had too much to drink, or drugs on board. Any place and any day we can probably find an article telling us something like this has happened either last evening or in the past few days. It is likely that many coworkers of these folks could have predicted it was coming. It is also just as likely that none of them said or did anything to prevent it. 

Because of our public safety profession, our coworkers with addiction problems are often “high functioning” addicts. They have the capacity to perform their jobs at an acceptable level and to hide their addiction. I am not going to talk to you about what you should do when you recognize the warning signs of addiction in one of your coworkers. That decision is up to you and your agency. 

Instead, I’m going to run down some of those things you should be looking for. Pay attention to the warning signs. When you see them, I hope you’ll do the right thing. First, you might see personality changes in your coworker. When people are affected by substance abuse, they become moody and irritable. They lose motivation and energy. It is unlikely that they have a rational excuse for these changes. 

Second, physical signs may be evident. They may not be very productive in the morning. Sure, this could describe most of us before our first cup of coffee. But you know what I’m getting at here. They may be more sluggish than most folks. They may appear ill or may often complain of morning headaches. There may be an odor indicating they had more than their fair share the night before. Another physical sign might be a decline in their physical appearance. 

When someone is regularly tardy or uses more sick leave than others, you should begin putting two and two together. 

And the last warning sign is excuse-making. High functioning addicts frequently make excuses for not feeling well, for missing appointments and deadlines, and for stepping out at unusual times. Their reasons aren’t generally well thought out or may seem hasty. When you start putting all these warning signs together, you might wonder if an off-duty crash or arrest for a substance abuse-related situation might be coming soon. 

Again, I’m not here to suggest what you should do if you identify a coworker with a problem. That’s a personal decision or one for your chain of command. But, in order for you to make an informed decision, you now know what to look for. 

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off. 

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