Courage Required: Reporting an Addicted Colleague

By Lindsey Novak

August 8, 2019 5 min read

Q: When we receive assignments, we are sent in pairs to work at the client's office, sometimes for months until the job is finished. My work partner was exceptionally nice, so all was cool. I drove us to the client because I find driving calming.

She was great at first, but I saw behavior changes as the day progressed. She was wiped out toward the end of the day, and it continued into the next morning. Sometimes she was too tired to talk on the ride there. One day I walked in on her taking pills. She said she wasn't feeling well and seemed shaky, but I didn't want to pry in case she had a medical condition. I told her I would do her work until she was better. But it continued for the duration of the assignment. In the last week, she collapsed after taking a pill. The client saw her fall and called for help. It turned out she was on a mix of drugs and alcohol. I didn't recognize this, and I never felt I had the right to ask. Now I feel naive and stupid.

A: You are not stupid. Most people lack the knowledge to recognize signs of addiction. An individual has a four times greater chance of becoming an alcoholic when the parents are alcoholics. Though the general public thinks the opposite, having a high tolerance to alcohol also means the person has a greater chance of being an alcoholic.

Dr. George Kolodner, founder of Kolmac Outpatient Recovery, developed the country's first intensive outpatient treatment program in 1973. (Centers are in the eastern states, though he has been asked to open this unique program across the country.) His insurance-sponsored treatment program allows the addict to remain on the job and attend therapeutic sessions after work five evenings a week, thereby creating a seamless rehabilitation process and saving patients from the stigma of having to drop out of work to recover. As they progress, the sessions reduce to three times a week. Continuing care is once a week.

He has treated patients with drug and alcohol addiction for 45 years and says even a medical professional can have trouble recognizing an alcohol or drug addiction. A person with a high tolerance to alcohol who functions at work can often only be confirmed through a Breathalyzer test.

"Colleagues who report someone are lifesavers. People who cover it up (referred to as enablers) may have the best intentions, but that can lead to more severe consequences," says Kolodner. A person who continues drinking or taking drugs at the illegal level has nowhere to go but down. His or her health will deteriorate unless the person quits. The saving grace is that when the person quits, his or her personality can be restored.

The field has better data on alcohol studies because drinking is legal. Opioid drugs are legal when taken as prescribed but become illegal when a person takes it over and above their prescription. It's also known that most people who are addicted to drugs also drink alcohol: The combination of the two is what often causes fatalities. It's important to note that an alcoholic can be a heavy drinker who does not look or act drunk. Studies have shown 75% of alcoholics who are employed may not necessarily show intoxication. This does not, however, mean the alcohol is not harming their health.

Laws regarding drug and alcohol intake change all the time, but the consequences are the same. When social use turns to addiction or problem use, early intervention is best. It takes courage to report a colleague.

If an individual wants to first talk to the person about the problem, Kolodner says to approach the topic before he or she is under the influence. "Never approach the conversation with 'I think you are a xxx.' Instead, tell the person what you see in the behavior. The addict thinks no one notices. When you focus on what you see, he or she realizes it is noticeable. And if you notice it, others notice it." Alcohol and drug problems don't get better. Moderating the intake amount is most difficult for an addict. Anonymous reporting is allowed, and reporting the person is always better than not reporting.

Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit, and for past columns, see

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