How Poor Work Performance Can Warn of Addiction Relapse

Poor Work Performance and Addiction Relapse

Getting back to work can be an important aspect of recovery.  Ideally, it’s a stepping stone on the road to a better life.  But that road may also have a few bumps along the way.  In some cases, “bumps,” such as poor work performance, can be the single of an addiction relapse, and an opportunity to tackle the problem before it gets worse.

Here are some of the workplace warnings, and what to do about it.

Workplace Observations

Caring professionals or attentive friends alike can look for these early workplace warning signs of a possible addiction relapse:

  • Tardiness, absenteeism, or frequent illness or injury. Particularly when such behaviors are new or increasing, they may be a sign of a relapse.
  • Decrease in work quality. The IT professional who starts miscoding, a construction worker who misplaces tools, or administrator who suddenly can’t keep track of meeting times, all might be demonstrating a situation.  In the case of an addict in recovery, it may signal a relapse.
  • Physical changes in appearance or demeanor. When an employee or friend starts showing up to work looking underfed, under rested, disheveled or otherwise worse for wear, it may be a warning sign of a relapse.
  • Addiction nostalgia. When a former addict starts to talk about life before rehab as though those were the Glory Days, it might signal a problem.  It’s natural to miss friends and life from prior times, but romanticizing periods of addiction can lead to relapse.

If you notice these or other troubling changes, do not discount your own observations.  It may be time to take the next step.

Relapse Defined

Before you talk to your friend/coworker/employee about a possible relapse, it’s important to know what that means.

If you have your own history of addiction, you may have some understanding of what you are up against.  If not, here’s some empathy 101:

First, addiction is a chronic disease.  Like other chronic diseases, such as hypertension or type II diabetes, addiction requires long-term management (similar success rates also).

Secondly, relapse is not the end of the world.  A setback, sure.  A situation worthy of handling, absolutely.  But relapses of a chronic condition are just a signal that help is needed, not a sign of failure.  Particularly if you have observed early warning signs of a relapse, acting now can prevent the situation from worsening.

A relapse is a deterioration in the situation, but it can be temporary.

Act on What You Observe

If you are a manager or in HR, it’s really important that you research what your state’s regulations might be, before you speak to an employee possibly experiencing a relapse.  You wouldn’t want to cross the line or appear to make accusations.

If you are a friend or a co-worker, though, it may be a good idea to just have a conversation about what you have observed.  Be specific.  Ask questions, particularly when faced with excuses or things that seem illogical (such as strange explanations for absences), but not in an accusatory way.  If you listen with empathy, with the goal to help, you can be part of the solution.  If you seem forceful and aggressive, or even overly concerned or condescending, it may do more harm than good.

Care enough to ask, but also enough to listen.

If the answers you get warrant alarm, it might even be a time to stage an intervention or get professional help.

By acting quickly and with care, a relapse can be a blip, a mere speed bump on the road to recovery.

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