Stigmatization in the Workplace

Dianova publishes a document about the stigma of substance use disorders in the workplace, the best practices to combat stigma and to implement an efficient substance use policy at work

Stigmatization in the workplace

Because of stigma, many people who struggle with alcohol or drug use at work choose to stay silent about addiction and recovery

People use alcohol or other drugs for various reasons: to seek pleasure, to support the difficulties of life, to improve one’s performances, etc. There are a variety of models and all life histories deserve the same attention. These individual life paths are generally associated to a collective: the family, the world of school and studies, leisure, and of course the workplace. In most industrialized countries, alcohol and other drug use is increasing in the workplace as in society and no professional sector is immune to this phenomenon.

The Stigma of Mental Health Disorders in the Workplace

The business environment is one of performance and productivity, so anything that might put this goal at risk is particularly frowned upon by employers. Diseases are among these unpredictable factors, yet, with the advancement of social rights and the help of insurance companies employers are now able to deal with these problems with minimal consequences for the workplace and workers. The days when a sick employee could be fired without further ado are over and that’s quite a good thing. We no longer live in the 18th century!

Nevertheless, there are still diseases or conditions on which the eyes of the company are far from being benevolent. Mental health disorders are one of them.

These are disorders that cannot be seen. And in the workplace, as in families, people tend to make a quick shortcut about it: what we do not see does not exist. Just take depression. This condition is severely debilitating and those affected have enough on their plates already. Still, “normal” people look at them as if they were contagious, and many people who are depressed have to hear the same platitudes such as: “Why don’t you give yourself a good kick in the rear”!

Stigma of Alcohol and other Drug Use Disorders

The stigma of mental health disorders is even more pervasive and entrenched in the workplace when associated with alcohol and other drug use disorders. For those affected, stigma is the main obstacle to treatment, while unfortunately, the dynamics of the workplace, corporate policies and employee status only perpetuate the problems associated with stigmatization.

A Non-existing Issue in Most Workplaces

Despite their many consequences and the fact that they concern a very large number of people, substance use disorders are a non-existing issue in many workplaces’ policies.

Alcohol and other drug use disorders are often the subject of formal conversations and informal talk. In hallway conversations, next to the coffee machine, it’s not uncommon to hear degrading remarks and words like “deadbeat”, “junkie” or “drunk” float around the workplace and keep our struggling colleagues silent. It may be a joke, a remark about a colleague facing such problems, or a side comment made with ill intent.

This kind of conversation, coupled with daily work-related stressors and multiplied by workplace traditions of happy hours and networking events, contribute to the reason choose to stay silent about addiction and recovery at work.