Suspected substance abuse: What to do?

It didn't happen all at once. Gradually, over a period of time, the possible cause dawned on Project Supervisor Bob Sherman. Mechanical Engineer Mark Hammer had been acting -- and looking -- funny these past weeks.
By Raymond Dreyfack March 1, 1999

It didn’t happen all at once. Gradually, over a period of time, the possible cause dawned on Project Supervisor Bob Sherman. Mechanical Engineer Mark Hammer had been acting — and looking — funny these past weeks. Or was it months? He appeared subject to mood swings, irritability, sensitivity. At times, he was unduly talkative, other times uncharacteristically taciturn. His attendance, absence, and lateness had become excessive. He seemed to be growing more and more careless about his appearance; one day he showed up wearing unmatched socks, one gray, one green.

But was this his business, Sherman asked himself. The answer became clear when for the third time in 2 wk, Hammer missed an important work deadline. His excuses were vague and this last time almost incomprehensible.

Sherman discussed the problem with Bill Shaw, his assistant. “Bill, I think Mark may be on some kind of drug.”

Shaw nodded. “I’ve already reached the same conclusion.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Have you talked with him about it?”

“About his work, sure. But not about possible drug abuse. I wouldn’t know how to go about it.”

Question: In Sherman’s spot, what action would you take?

Draper’s counsel: The supervisor confided his concern to his boss.

Plant Engineer Cal Draper thought for a moment, then replied, “Mark certainly appears to have some typical symptoms, although his behavior isn’t necessarily the result of substance abuse. It could be due to illness, family problems, whatever. I’d explore this possibility with him if you can. If you still feel drug abuse may be his problem, try a strategy of ‘constructive confrontation’ with an emphasis on help and emotional support rather than discipline. Urge him to seek professional help voluntarily. If this doesn’t work, let me know and we’ll turn over the case to Human Resources.”

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