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Five Keys to Effective DOT Drug and Alcohol Training Compliance to Obtain a DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training Certificate

Posted by Daniel A. Feerst, BSW, MSW, LISW-CP, Publisher on

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires regulated industries to have DOT drug and alcohol training of supervisory personnel overseeing safety-sensitive positions. This training, of course, must include one hour of drug awareness and one hour of alcohol awareness information that includes key drug types, signs, symptoms, effects, behaviors on the job, etc. Unfortunately, the DOT can't tell you to train supervisors on things like "the disease model", the causes of alcoholism, myths and misconceptions about addiction, understanding enabling, or how the supervisors avoids being manipulated in confrontations. It doesn't require explain to supervisors why employees can look sober as a judge, but still smell of booze, and other "qualitative" or "controversial" topics.

I use the word controversial because addictions and substance abuse have been around for thousands of years. And they have been causing problems for others (like family members) for just as long. With this history has come a closet jam-packed with misconceptions, myths, false causation models, and a ton of other junk that has helped the disease stay confusing, and more so than ever for the average person. These are the supervisors sitting in front of you in a DOT drug and alcohol training class.

If you don't deal with all this stuff or least a good hunk of it, you will have supervisors walking away from training knowing all drug-details, but sabotaged by their long-held, deeply ingrained myths and misconceptions. If any of the supervisors in your class also alcoholic themselves, or they have alcoholism in their families, well...all bets are off.

Your supervisors, if kept in the dark, will do all the wrong things, say all the wrong things, and think all the wrong things for the right reasons. The bottom line -- sabotage of the drug free workplace policy and increased risk to organization.

So with that said, let me give you five important keys to helping your drug and alcohol training "stick." Who knows, you may prevent a AMTRAK wreck someday because you produced a well-educated supervisor.

Help Supervisors Understand Alcoholism:

Everyone knows an alcoholic. And everyone can tell you what causes alcoholism. This is because the illness is so prevalent. But not everyone is right, of course. So, offer information in your training about the bio-genetic nature of this illness. (Please, dear heavens, I beg you, don't use the phrase "alcoholism is an equal opportunity disease." Some people will drink all their lives, get drunk when ever they want to, and never acquire alcoholism. They could not become alcoholic if you paid them a million dollars because they are resistant. Others will drink alcoholically almost immediately.)

I recommend you read the book, "Under the Influence" by James Milam, Ph.D., to get a solid appreciation for the disease, but the bottom line is that you must give supervisors critical knowledge about the disease model so they are "shaken" from the deeply held beliefs. I know, it is no guarantee of instant insight and profound change, but you will make a big dent in this problem at the very least.

Such training and education motivates supervisor to act on the drug and alcohol policy. No, it does not cause them to start diagnosing employees, and you should discuss what this means so they don't do it. In fact, I digress, but give them a handout that explains avoiding armchair diagnosis. This will interrupt, or help prevent them from acting on their false understanding of the disease. Discuss the handout in the class. Are you beginning to understand my point of how to do proper DOT drug and alcohol training?

Focus on Performance:

Give supervisors a decent list of behavioral signs and symptoms, not necessarily associated with being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, so they ALSO focus on documentable behaviors that effect a supervisor referral. The DOT does not require this either. In the 1950's, there was a big kick to train supervisors in how to spot an alcoholic using direct signs and symptoms. It failed miserably. Lewis Presnall was the individual who revolutionized the change to performance symptoms identification, and this in turn led to broad brush EAPs. Now we are back again to this failed approach at looking for addicts. Yes, there is some value in spotting direct signs and symptoms, but early detection---not much. The supervisor must look at performance: a) Attendance b) Availability c) Conduct d) Attitude e) Quality of Work -- together they spell J-O-B   P-E-R-F-O-R-M-A-N-C-E. This will allow supervisors to refer alcoholic/drug addicted employees earlier without having to wait for direct symptoms to appear. (Use this  performance signs and symptoms checklist free as a thank you for reading my blog post this far! The $17 editable handout in MS Word and MS Publisher is found here.)

Use an Effective Checklist of Drug and Alcohol Signs and Symptoms:

I can't give this one away, but make sure your alcohol and drug use signs and symptoms checklist has good solid documenting instructions with it. Below is a graphic I created to show what I am talking about. This is from the Reasonable Suspicion Signs and Symptoms Checklist available here.

Image of What a good signs and symptoms checklist looks like.

Signs and Symptoms Checklist for Reasonable Suspicion

Talk about Excuses and Manipulation:

The last resort to prevent a drug test is manipulation of the supervisor. And there may be dozens of ways this occurs, but make sure your training includes this sort of information because supervisors will be better prepared to defend against this manipulation.

Among the more famous excuses are, "I haven't had a drink since last night." "But you and I are friends!!" "You will ruin my career." "It's mouthwash!", etc. Help supervisors understand these excuses and how to properly respond to them. This makes for great class discussion. You can examine this video below for educating supervisors on this topic. It will help you understand the point I am trying to make.

You can buy this section if you need it, but we also placed it within the full program. By the way, the DOT itself, uses our program.


The DOT does not require you to discuss enabling in the workplace and associated behaviors common to supervisors who interact with substance abusing employees. Training programs for purchase often omit this information because they are produced by film and materials companies that do not have any professional experience in DOT training and do not have content experts on staff.  They therefore unwittingly omit it.

Okay, that's it for this post, but here is an image of an enabling handout for supervisors.

You will find a full preview--unabridged--of the DOT Drug and Alcohol Training Program here.

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