The relationship between drugs and alcohol and adverse mental health outcomes is irrefutable. Alcohol, marijuana, meth and the wide range of other substances people use to alter their state, are psychoactive. Depending on the substance, emotions may be suppressed or aroused. Either way, they are altered.

This altering of emotions, means a person’s mental state is affected. And use of psychoactive substances will result in a change in a person’s mental health and wellbeing.

The way people respond to drugs and alcohol varies. Some people are ‘happy drunks’ while others are ‘violent’. This difference in response applies to all psychoactive substance not just alcohol. Although some psychoactive substances, such as methamphetamine, have a stronger association with violence and anti-social behaviour.

Short-term effects on drugs and mental health

All psychoactive substances cause metal health problems while people are under their influence and using them. These can extend into the period when people are clearing the drugs from their system and after the drug has been cleared.

Drug-induced anxiety disorder

Drug use can cause panic attacks – periods of very severe anxiety when the heart rate increases, the body may tremble, there may be sweating, shortness of breath, and a fear of losing control. People can also feel like their surroundings are strange and unreal, or that they are losing their personal identity and sense of reality. The paranoia often associated with drug use.

Drug-induced psychosis

Of greater concern, is that psychoactive drugs can cause delusions. People believe things that aren’t true, or experience hallucinations. They see or hear things that are not there. This can often be when horrendous acts of violence or accidents occur. Instances of psychosis increase as a person’s habitual drug use become more entrenched.

Drug-induced mood disorder

If using a drug is done to create a ‘positive’ emotional state, once that drug starts to leave the system, the opposite can be true. People may have times when they feel depressed – sad, restless, irritable, tired, loss of pleasure, or manic –  where they experience and elevated mood, delusions, impulsive behaviour, racing thoughts. Again, changes to mood increase as a person’s habitual drug use become more entrenched.

Long-term effects on drugs and mental health

As noted, everybody responds differently to psychoactive substances. Some are completely ‘intolerant’. The smallest amounts have a profound effect. Think the people who die the first time they use ecstasy. Others can ‘handle’ their drugs or booze.

Regardless of a person’s disposition, the long-term risk to mental health is profound. Problems build up as use become habitual. Depression, psychosis and conditions like schizophrenia are commonplace. And if people have an undiagnosed mental health issue, too often they choose to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol. Ultimately exacerbating a pre-existing condition.

The problem is, which came first, the mental health issue or the health habit.

Why this matters for employers

Advocates for drug users argue that a drug habit is a health issue and should be treated as such. The NZ Bill of Rights Act prevents discrimination against people with health issues. Should this classification ultimately hold water, this will make management of employees who use drugs and alcohol and bring the challenges this habit can create into the work place, a good deal more complex.

Further, in late 2018, a refreshed 10 year strategy for Workplace Health and Safety. This strategy places more emphasis on Health when compared to Safety. And there is a particular focus on mental health.

Given the fact that as of April 2019 employers became responsible for shouldering the financial burden of family violence, it must be considered highly likely economic obligations will be imposed on employers around mental health related issues.

If you do not know what your employee/worker lifestyle habits are where drugs and alcohol are concerned, how will you mitigate the potential for claims from team members whose drug and alcohol habits have got the better of their mental health and wellbeing?

Of course, continuing to bury your head in the sand remains an option. However, the longer you choose to do so, the greater the risk to your business. The sooner you contact us (link to website contact page), the sooner we can help you a point where the risks presented by drugs and alcohol are being proactively managed. This opens up opportunities for organisational and employee/worker growth and development.

If you don’t have a Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policy in place, talk with us. We can help develop and implement and impairment focused model for you. Even if you do have a policy in place, it is important that you are actively raising staff awareness. Both in terms of what to look for as far as identifying issues is concerned. And most importantly, what to do about it. Our approach to risk management is sensitive and includes all these things. Find out more about our services here.