Accurate assessment is the key

There are many services available to tackle drug and alcohol problems. However, in reality, the situation is much more complex than this. The term ‘drug and alcohol problems’ is one that encompasses a very broad area indeed. It can range from somebody who is very fond of alcohol and lacks the self-discipline to draw clear boundaries between leisure time and work time and, at the other extreme, highly complex situations where a physical dependency has developed has caused or exacerbated health problems and has led to a complex array of personal and social problems. How we can help resolve the problems depends on what those problems are, and so we must be careful not to oversimplify and see all drug- and drink-related problems as much of a muchness. They are very different indeed, depending on the circumstances. Some people may need medical help, while some may need counselling or problem-solving types of help. However, what is very well established is that people are unlikely to be willing to accept any help offered until they fully accept that they have a problem – and this can be a very difficult thing for somebody who relies on drugs or alcohol to do. It is unfortunately the case that things often have to get worse before they get better. This means that, in the workplace setting, important decisions may have to be made in terms of risk assessment. For example, if a particular employee is experiencing difficulties, how safe is it to allow him or her to continue their normal duties while these problems persist? Do they present unacceptable risks to themselves, to others or to the organisation? In attempting to resolve problems associated with drug and alcohol misuse, it is important to separate out two sets of issues. First, there are the problems that relate specifically to the misuse of drugs and alcohol and the difficulties that arise from this. Second, it is likely that there will be other problems that will have contributed to (and are likely to be exacerbated by) the first set of problems. These can include marital or other relationship problems, stress (within work, outside work or both), financial problems and very many others. It is likely that (particularly in the more serious cases) the two sets of issues will become intertwined and will influence each other. But, to begin with at least, it is important to separate them out, so that we can begin to see what can be dealt with and what cannot. Sometimes the scale of problems is so great that it has to be recognised that a short-term solution is not possible. However, we should also not go to the opposite extreme and assume that nothing can be done as problems relating to drug and alcohol misuse can often be resolved very successfully. It is important to keep matters in perspective and be neither defeatist nor idealistic.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at

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