Everyone is entitled to treatment for substance use (drug addiction) if you need it. With the right help and support, it's possible for you to get drug free and stay that way. Your treatment will depend on your personal circumstances and what you're addicted to. 

What is addiction?

Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. Addiction is most commonly associated with gambling, drugs, alcohol and smoking, but it's possible to be addicted to just about anything.

There are lots of reasons why addictions begin. In the case of drugs and alcohol, they affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These substances give you a feeling of wellbeing that lasts for a short time. This can be enjoyable and may make you feel like you can cope more easily with problems you are experiencing.

Taking substances becomes a problem when you start to depend on them - when you feel you need to take a substance to feel good, or to feel less bad.

Dr John Marsden from the National Addiction Centre talks about what causes people to become addicted.

Substance mis(use)

Misuse refers to the use of illegal drugs and the misuse, whether deliberate or unintentional, of other drugs, including alcohol and substances such as solvents. Substance misuse can harm the misuser both physically and mentally and, through the misuser’s actions, other people and the environment.

Misuse covers three main areas:

  • Inappropriate use, where use may aggravate an existing condition or situation, or is done in potentially dangerous or inappropriate circumstances
  • Habitual use, where the individual becomes dependent on the effects of the substance to the extent that the desire for these effects becomes a dominant concern, to the detriment of other aspects of their life
  • Excessive use, which can lead to physical and mental illness, or antisocial behaviour.

The effects of substance misuse can manifest in many ways both physically and mentally. When it becomes an addiction, you may feel that you are unable to prioritise the things that were once important to you in the same way. Addiction can get in the way of success at work or at college/university, and can make it impossible to maintain healthy relationships with the people you care about.

If you are unsure if your substance misuse has become problematic, please take this self-screening test which will give you an indication of whether you benefit from further support.

Remember, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge that there is a problem and seeking support. Substance use can be life changing. Help and support is available.

It can be helpful to talk to other people who know what you're going through. It is useful to check with your GP to give you details of local support groups for people affected by someone else's drug use.

There are also organisations that run helplines and local support groups for people living with a person who uses drugs.


FRANK is a support service that provides information about drugs, plus advice for people who use drugs, and their parents or carers. Find a Frank support service near you. Find a Frank support near you or call the Frank helpline 0300 123 66 00.


Adfam has local support groups and helpful information online for families affected by drugs and alcohol. Find an Adfam support group near you.


DrugFAM offers phone and email support to people affected by other people's drug or alcohol misuse. Email: office@drugfam.co.uk or call the helpline: 0300 888 3853.

Families Anonymous

Families Anonymous is based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous. It runs local support groups for the family and friends of people with a drug problem. Email: office@famanon.org.uk or call the helpline: 0207 4984 680.


Release offers free, confidential advice on drugs law for people who use drugs, and their families. Email: ask@release.org.uk or call the helpline: 020 7324 2989.

This section provides guidance for managers on how to approach the problem of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace.CIPD logo

The best way of dealing with the real or potential effects of drugs and alcohol at work is to make expert advice and help readily available. 

Managers and supervisors should be encouraged to recognise and deal with substance use issues. CIPD have created a guide to help employers and line managers not only manage drug and alcohol misuse at work, but also support employees when dealing with disclosures.

Signs of drug and alcohol use in the workplace

While not everyone who uses drugs and/or alcohol will begin to misuse or become dependent on them, even infrequent use can impact on the workplace in many ways including:

  • Increased absence
  • Problems with punctuality
  • Reduced work performance and productivity
  • Safety risks to the individual and others
  • Possibility of erratic workplace behaviour
  • Adverse impact on company reputation and customer relations
  • Negative impact on team morale

Remember: all the signs shown above may be caused by other factors and should be regarded only as indications that an employee may be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Drug and alcohol policy in the workplace

Employers must ensure they have a clear policy on substance misuse which should outline:

  • The purpose and scope of the policy
  • The dangers of substance misuse for both the misuser and their colleagues
  • Expectations of staff behaviour at work
  • Any disciplinary consequences
  • The importance of early identification and treatment
  • Help which will be offered to the employee
  • An assurance of confidentiality
How to suppport as a manager

You should encourage individuals to seek advice from their GP or pharmacist on any medicines they are taking. In consultation with the employee, their GP will take steps to arrange for counselling, treatment and rehabilitation, with periodic testing if appropriate. If appropriate, encourage them to discuss any problems with an occupational health service if they feel this would be helpful.

Staff can also confidentially self-refer to our team. As a manager, you can also refer on behalf of a colleague - you must have consent to do this. 

The contact details of local organisations that can provide assistance to staff members, who may feel unable to consult their own occupational health service, should be prominently displayed and readily available to all staff. 

Employers should not automatically invoke disciplinary action for voluntary referrals where the employee successfully undergoes a programme of treatment.

The role of occupational health services

Occupational health may be where the problem is acknowledged first. This may be through self-referral, management referral or when another issue has been raised. If employees acknowledge an alcohol or drug problem, they should be referred to the occupational health service. Non-compliance with the referral and action recommended by the occupational health service might lead to disciplinary action.

On referral to the occupational health service, an assessment should be made of the employee’s fitness for duty. This should be a specialist comprehensive medical assessment. Following assessment, the occupational health service should advise the line manager of the employee’s fitness for work on medical grounds.

However, not all occupational health services will have the appropriate experience and knowledge to enable them to deal with this problem. The occupational health service will normally liaise with the GP, who should arrange treatment, involving specialists in the management of alcohol or drug misuse.

The second role of occupational health is managing the employee’s return to work. Those treating substance misuse are not always aware of the occupational implications and there is a role for occupational physicians in ensuring a suitable and satisfactory return to work. In the majority of cases, the employee should be returning to the same work they were doing before the problem was recognised.

For your local drug and alcohol services, click here and enter your post code

Action on Addiction

Range of abstinence-based treatment services for people with severe dependency on alcohol and drugs. Telephone: 0300 330 0659. 

Build on Belief

Offer a peer support service for people struggling with substance issues. 

Families Anonymous

Telephone and other support services for families and friends of drug users. Telephone: 020 7498 4680.

Talk to Frank

Helpline for anyone concerned about drug or solvent misuse. Advice and information for drug misusers, their families, friends, carers. Telephone: 0300 123 6600. 

London Friend

Run LGBT drug and alcohol service. Telephone: 020 7833 1674.

Phoenix Futures

Charity and housing association which has been helping people overcome drug and alcohol problems for more than 40 years. Telephone: 020 7234 9740. 

UK Narcotics Anonymous

Helpline and regular self help meetings for addicts who have a desire to stop using and who wish to support each other in remaining drug free. Telephone: 0300 999 1212. 

Recovery Focus

A national group of charities, who are all highly experienced in providing specialist support services to individuals and families living with the affects of mental ill health, drug and alcohol use, gambling and domestic violence across the country. Telephone: 020 7697 3300.


Helpline and support for drug users, families, friends. Advice on drug related subjects including health, welfare and legal issues. Telephone: 020 7324 2989. 

Salvation Army

Runs homes for the treatment of alcoholics and drug addict. Telephone: 020 7367 4500. 

Talk to us

We are here to help support you.  We have a dedicated Substance Misuse Practitioner if there is anything you would like to get in touch with us about: