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Purpose and Objectives
Equipment and Materials
Policy Overview
Workplace Impact
Understanding Addiction
Signs and Symptoms
current selection is Family and Coworker Impact
Assistance
Specific Drugs of Abuse
Presentation Materials

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy
Drug-Free Workplace Advisor
Employee Education

Family and Coworker Impact

A person's abuse of alcohol or other drugs affects everyone around him or her. Whether it is an employee, an employee's loved one, or a coworker who has a problem, the impact can be felt on the job.

Often those affected by someone who has a drug or alcohol problem change their behavior to adapt, ignore, struggle or otherwise cope with that person's substance abuse. Some of the behaviors that families and friends adopt are called "enabling". Enabling is action that you take to protect the person with the problem from the consequences of his or her actions. Unfortunately, enabling actually helps him or her to not deal with the problem.

Examples of enabling behavior include:

  • Covering Up - providing alibis, making excuses or even doing an impaired coworker's work rather than allowing it to be known that he/she is not meeting his/her responsibilities.
  • Rationalizing - developing reasons why the person's continued use is understandable or acceptable.
  • Withdrawing - avoiding contact with the person with the problem.
  • Blaming - blaming yourself for the substance abuser's continued use or getting angry at the individual for not trying hard enough to control his/her use or to get help.
  • Controlling - trying to take responsibility for the person's use by throwing out his/her drugs or cutting off the supply.
  • Threatening - saying that you will take action (ceasing to cover up, turning the person in, terminating the relationship) if the person doesn't control his/her use, but not following through when he/she repeatedly uses.
Often, the person with a problem will consciously or unconsciously use a variety of "traps" to protect him or herself when being confronted. Examples of these traps include:
Sympathy: Trying to get you involved in his/her personal problems.
Excuses: Having increasingly improbable explanations for everything that happens.
Apology: Being very sorry and promising that they will change. ("It won't happen again.")
Diversions: Trying to get you to talk about other issues in life or in the workplace.
Innocence: Claiming he/she is not the cause of the problems you observe, but rather the victim. ("It isn't true." "I didn't know." "Everyone is against me.")
Anger: Exhibiting physically intimidating behavior, blaming others. ("It's your fault I drink.")
Pity: Using emotional blackmail to elicit your sympathy and guilt. ("You know what I'm going through. How can you do this to me now?")
Tears: Falling apart and expressing remorse upon confrontation.
When these traps are used unconsciously, the individual may indeed truly feel sorry and be determined to change, but without treatment and appropriate support, it is unlikely that they will succeed.

If you encounter these responses when confronting a loved one, friend or coworker about his/her behavior, you may want to consult the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have access to one. The EAP can help you deal with your own frustrations in dealing with a substance abuser and give you pointers about how to most effectively confront the individual. When talking to the person with the problem, you will want to be straightforward and serious about the problem. Convey that you care and are worried and encourage him or her to follow up with the EAP or seek other help.

      Remember: You did not cause it.
      You cannot control it.
      You cannot cure it.
If you do not have an EAP available, you may want to seek help from a professional counselor who is experienced in addressing addiction. You may also find it helpful to attend an Al-Anon meeting where other family, friends and loved ones of alcoholics and drug addicts share their experience, strength and hope as they struggle to cope to come to terms with the effects of addiction.