This week my guest Melissa Hathaway offers hope for healing the often hidden problem of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, particularly when it is a response to workplace stress.

Melissa has written a number of guides for people looking for help with loved ones struggling with addiction on behalf of the US Coalition Against Drug Abuse. She says, “One of the most inspiring things that came up was how the arts – everything from exploring poetry to painting and pottery – had shaped people’s lives and offered many an important tool to aid their recovery.”

The Hidden Dangers of Workplace Stress 

figure by seaThe pressures of the economic downturn are not helping with the problem of workplace bullying. As more and more companies struggle to survive, bosses are being put under increasing pressure to perform by their superiors and shareholders, and workers are usually the ones onto whom this pressure is transferred. The threat of job loss or redundancy is a highly effective weapon when trying to motivate a workforce, and one frequently used by managers in order to bully staff into working excessive hours, sometimes as unpaid overtime. Managers themselves often become extremely stressed with the responsibility they feel for livelihood of their workforce. Managers are just as likely to become ill with stress as their employees.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse

The relentless nature of workplace bullying, combined with a sense of job insecurity, quickly erode both confidence and spirit. The work/life balance that may have existed in more stable times becomes harder to maintain, and some employees find themselves sinking into exhaustion and despair. Their defenses are dangerously low when they reach this point. Things that at one time might have seemed straightforward become harder to manage, as the mind becomes overwhelmed with information, and exhausted from overwork. They may feel that life will always be like this, and that there is no way out of their situation. They know that everyone is depending on them to support their family.

Psychologically, this level of pressure is intolerable, and the mind may begin to seek relief in alcohol or drugs to release itself from the discomfort, or blot out anxieties. The sheer mental effort of controlling yourself in the face of a workplace bully requires enormous levels of self-control. The strain and frustration of this must be released somehow, and with precious little time for sport and socializing, reaching for the bottle can seem like the only answer. An instant route to relaxation is extremely tempting. Sadly, this is not an uncommon problem in high stress work environments. If you are suffering from bullying, one of the worst aspects of it is the inability to escape your torment. Sometimes it seems that the only way to find respite is from a drug.

Regaining Control, Regaining Balance

In a sense, giving in to alcohol and drugs is the beginning of you changing. You are recognizing that you can no longer cope. By surrendering yourself to a destructive path, you are demonstrating that you can no longer endure the intolerable. Something has to change, and by making that choice you are seeing to it that it will. It is often a drink or drug problem that is the catalyst for changes, as incapacity forces an employee to seek and accept support. It is an important first step in realizing that none of us are able to take on everything alone, and that life can in fact change if we seek help.

There Is Help – And Hope

Inevitably, a drink or drug affected employee is at far greater risk of job loss than one who is not. If addiction does lead to unemployment, it can be the beginning of a new outlook and direction. Recovery programs in California are used to seeing burnt out and anxious workers, who have succumbed to addiction. It is part of their job to help rebuild the future for that individual, and to help them reassess where their life might go next. With the right help, an addict can regain their self-esteem and rebalance their life. Therapy in rehab centers is initially based around help with physical withdrawal, sometimes in the form of medication. Once physical dependence has been eliminated, the patient is helped with psychotherapy, art therapy, exercise and relaxation. They are encouraged to find a deep sense of peace within their lives once again, to stop the constant transit of adrenalin around their bodies, to rest, and be still. Only then can they hope to rebuild.

Once the pain of bullying and pressure has gone, an individual is once again free to make healthy choices, and maybe take a new career path. They are able to focus on their strengths, without being constantly reminded about their weaknesses.

Whilst drink and drug problems amongst stressed and bullied employees are not uncommon, they can eventually lead to a positive outcome. Regaining control of your life, after relinquishing control of your life, often leads to a healthier and happier future.

Help in the UK

You can find out more about Art Therapy in the UK from MIND, and from The British Association of Art Therapists. The NHS website offers a list of useful resources for help with alcohol problems.

The Priory Group also has an informative resource page about alcohol addiction, how to recognise it and how to get help.