Help for alcohol/substance misuse
When should I seek help for alcohol or other substance misuse?
- Substance misuse occurs when an individual uses a substance “too much, too often, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, or at the wrong place.”
We often think that problems associated with substance use result from either abuse or addiction, that is, with problems resulting from heavy, frequent or sometimes uncontrollable use of a particular substance. However, in the workplace we are also concerned about the use of substances that might not constitute abuse, but nevertheless interferes with work performance or jeopardizes individual safety. Such misuse occurs when an individual uses a substance “too much, too often, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, or at the wrong place.” “Misuse” thus covers the full spectrum of behaviors from appearing at work smelling of alcohol or illicit substances to appearing at work seriously impaired. It therefore includes moderate but inappropriately-timed use as well as frequent over-use (abuse) and long-term addiction.
The range of substances that are misused is wide and includes:
- Alcohol — beer, wine, spirits, liquor
- Cannabis — marijuana, hashish
- Depressants — sleeping medications, sedatives, some tranquilizers
- Hallucinogens — LSD, PCP, mescaline, ecstasy
- Inhalants — hydrocarbons, solvents
- Opiates — morphine, heroin, codeine, some prescription pain medications
- Stimulants — cocaine, amphetamines, Ritalin
- Prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications that are misused or taken inappropriately.
Recognizing all forms of substance misuse is important for three reasons. First, substance impairment places both the impaired individual and others around them at risk of accident or injury. Second, once the signs of misuse appear in the workplace, it is likely that misuse is becoming a significant factor in an individual’s life. And third, because of the potentially damaging and addictive nature of these substances, it is especially important to intervene at an early stage.
What is the relationship between substance misuse and mental health problems?
- Substance misuse may begin as an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Some misused substances are depressants.
- Personal and work-related problems can result from substance misuse.
Many people who misuse substances also suffer from mental health problems, particularly depression or anxiety. In some cases, depression and anxiety precede substance misuse; in fact, substance misuse may begin as an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In other cases, depression and anxiety follow substance misuse. This may be because some substances are, themselves, depressants; but it may also be a response to personal and work-related problems that result from substance misuse. The complex interplay of substance misuse and other mental health problems increases the difficulty of recognizing and treating both.
What is the University policy regarding substance misuse?
The University of Michigan Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy refers to the broad category of substance misuse, not merely to substance abuse.
Any of the following activities on University property are violations of University policy:
- Possession or consumption of alcohol or illicit drugs, other than 1) at University functions at which use of alcohol is approved by the unit or department's director and UM Office of Facilities and Operations when applicable; or 2) in the residences of students over 21 years of age
- Being impaired or under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol
- Making, selling or distributing alcohol or illicit drugs
Employees found violating University policy may be removed from the workplace and subject to discipline. Depending on the nature of their employment, they may be referred for testing and treatment prior to being allowed to return to work. This is particularly the case for employees who work in safety sensitive positions, are involved in patient care, or are subject to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
Can seeking treatment for substance misuse/abuse, negatively impact my job?
- Seeking treatment might actually save a job that is in jeopardy because of performance problems resulting from substance misuse.
- All U-M health plans provide coverage for treatment
The University values its employees and therefore encourages employees with substance misuse problems to seek treatment. There is no penalty for doing so. In fact, seeking treatment might actually save a job that is in jeopardy because of performance problems resulting from substance misuse.
Treatment for substance misuse is regarded the same as treatment for any medical condition. All U-M health plans provide coverage for treatment, though you need to check with your insurance company to determine which providers are authorized to provide treatment for you. Depending on your U-M time-off plan and the nature and duration of treatment, you may use short-term or extended-sick coverage, paid time-off (PTO) or vacation time while you undergo treatment.
If treatment requires you to be away from work for more than a few days, or that you reduce your work hours, you may be asked to submit medical documentation. If you have questions about sick time, in addition to your supervisor and unit-based HR representative, you can contact:
- University HR — for employees on central, Flint and Dearborn campuses
- University of Michigan Health System Human Resource Services — for health system employees
- Work~Connections — for issues associated with return-to-work for employees on all campuses
If you have questions or concerns about confidentiality or disclosing the nature of your condition, please refer to the discussions of the following questions about confidentiality and disclosure.