What do you do when you think someone is abusing substances?


Today’s topic: What do you do when you think someone is abusing substances?

I think there are two main questions related to this topic…Should you become involved? And what do you do?

Should you become involved?:

The easy answer is a resounding YES! But it’s not that easy I know. By becoming involved you may accomplish the following…

  • Help someone who is suffering,
  • Help protect the safety and welfare of your employee, coworker or friend,
  • Help protect patients or the public who come in contact with them.

Why should you become involved?

  • All of the above and…
  • It is the right thing to do,
  • It is the ethical thing to do,
  • You are bound by the requirements of your license (assuming you are licensed) to report known substance abuse.

What do you do?:

Ok, so let’s assume you have identified a problem and decided you need to do something. What do you do next? I feel it is important that the person knows you suspect them of substance abuse. Sometimes knowing that others recognize it will be enough to compel them to get help. If that isn’t the case, the next step is to notify your supervisor (even if you don’t share the same supervisor). It is then out of your hands. Once reported, the institution will follow their policies and procedures. If you are a supervisor or other person in authority who deals with these issues there are many things you can do to help.

You are required to report such instances to the licensing authority, and you should. If there is evidence of theft, legal advice should be sought and perhaps police involved. In no way should you try to diminish what the person has done. They must be held accountable for their actions. But there is so much more you can do. They need to know that they have options, that if they make the right decisions now, they can lessen the impact on their license, future employment and ability to support themselves and/or their family. A few options are…

  • Self reporting to the licensing board,
  • Employee Assistance Program or EAP,
  • Counseling,
  • Various treatment programs,
  • 12 step programs.

It is important that each individual be given the option of self reporting to their licensing board. It is the first step they can take in righting the wrongs they have done. It give them a feeling of finally doing the right thing and the licensing board looks with favor on those who self report.  If available, the person should be given the contact information for the EAP, this is a great way for those who want help to start that process. If there is no such program (besides thinking about starting one) you can have information available regarding names and numbers of counselors, treatment programs and 12 step meetings like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in your area.

Presented with all of this, many people will confess their problem with substance abuse and seek help. There is great hope if they take this road, but many won’t. Some people are just so sick they can’t admit it, they are so used to lying and covering up that they just can’t say it out loud. If this is the case, you must let them go, you can’t make the effort for them, they must do it. Hopefully whatever consequences they face will snap them out of whatever denial they are clinging to they will get the help they need. Some do, some never do.

It was so hard for me to admit my transgressions. The first time I got caught stealing drugs I couldn’t. I faced many legal and licensing dilemmas. I spent 4 months in jail the second time I got caught. It was then I was able seek the help I needed.

Ok, now what? They feel their life is over, what happens next? That is a topic for next week…

About the Author

Kristin Waite-Labott is a registered nurse and recovering addict who has firsthand experience with the challenges of addiction. She now works as the Head Nurse Coach at Veritus, a virtual treatment program for nurses with substance use and mental health disorders, and is dedicated to helping nurses overcome addiction and making a difference in the lives of others. Kristin is passionate about addressing the growing problem of addiction among healthcare professionals and encourages open discussions and action to prevent it from spreading further.

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