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Reasonable Suspicion Training: DOT Supervisors Must Be Educated Against Their Strongly Held Misconceptions

Posted by Daniel Feerst, BSW, MSW, LISW-CP on

As I frequently discuss, you must erode myths and misconceptions about substance abuse and addictive disease to

DOT supervisors may also be in denial

make headway in reducing risk of DOT supervisors ignoring drug and alcohol using employees on the job.

Your DOT supervisors should understand that drug and alcohol addictions are highly treatable illnesses. This means that when done properly, success rates are consistently high at about 70-80% in my experience, and when excellent alcoholic follow up in recovery is monthly for two years that includes intense educational material about managing the disease for a few months following inpatient discharge. This approach average 85% in my experience at one hospital where I worked for 11 years.

A short relapse (a few days or more may be included, but good follow up can catch it these events early, and success at complete abstinence can often be re-established via EAPs and conscientious treatment providers doing their jobs.

Employees generally recover well, and frequently become better than well, which means that once sober, their attention to health and well being begins to demonstrate itself in higher levels of productivity and engagement with their the job. This benefits the employer and goes to the bottom line.

Some drug addictions are tougher to treat that others, of course, like cocaine, meth addiction, heroin addiction, and perhaps chronic use of Spice/K2, but firm choice agreements and properly constructed last chance agreements when properly authored and enforced can facilitate effective recovery of these individuals. It happens, and it happens a lot. There is no denying this reality. The question is the "technology" likely to help make recovery happen. A consultant with can advise you on these instruments of intervention and wellness.

DOT Supervisor Training should also discuss early action by supervisors in response to job performance problems. Responding early increases the rate by which addicts are helped due to earlier referral to employee assistance programs.

Success and motivation to accept treatment occurs not the first time, but as a result of ongoing confrontation. Every addict has this experience prior to accepting treatment. This accumulation effect is what erodes denial and a crisis is what pushes the decision to enter treatment.

No employee should be seen as beyond help and every manager must understand that the very next opportunity to help an employee enter treatment may be the one time that leads to lasting and stable sobriety. There is no predicting the stock market, the lottery, and whether treatment will "take" at any one intervention event.

In DOT Supervisor Training, symptoms of addiction that the average untrained individual may easily associate with a drinking or drug problem may not appear in the workplace until 15-20 years--after the diagnosis actually exists. Problems in the family may be ongoing for many years prior to performance problems appearing. Supervisors may hear about divorce and stories spun to make it appear as though it is all "spouse's fault" decades before job performance issues begin.

These past stories only serve to help supervisors think diagnostically about the employees problems and blame--like the alcoholic himself--other people, places, and things for the troubles the employee experiences. This is how addicts die untreated. They are killed with kindness and misunderstanding. By the way, actively drinking alcoholics do a very poor job at confronting other alcoholics and shepherding them into treatment, so your DOT drug and alcohol training courses are by design are making an impact on these individuals.

All of this above points to the importance of educating supervisors about addictive disease to debunk the myths and misconceptions they hold or actually grasp with an iron fist. Supervisors with addicts in the family are the most difficult to convince against their strongly held belief systems.

DOT Supervisor Training should also help supervisors understand institutional enabling. For example, a history of strong contributions by the employee to the organization may lead managers to reduce their willingness to refer an alcoholic employee to testing or counseling based on performance issues that can easily be documented. Add in a scoopful of stigma, and these employees are enabled for years.

The fear of job loss is a powerful motivator to consider treatment. This is why EAPs have worked so well in getting employees into treatment. Fear works hand in hand to make EAPs effective. That doesn't sound so politically correct, but all addicts enter treatment because of fear--fear of something--death, divorce, job loss, killing someone accidentally, or even suicide. Job loss of course is more powerful than threat of divorce, as I believe some research has indicated (sorry can't recall what.)

Most employees by the time job performance is affected, have some unspoken awareness that alcohol or drug use plays some role in their personal problems. There is no such thing as "pure denial" contrary to popular myth. However, addicts are not self-diagnosed by this awareness. Instead, denial becomes a survival tool to avoid the belief that abstinence or treatment is needed an non-negotiable. At this point alcohol or drug use provides too much of a predictable way to feel physically well, literally. This dependency on substances provides relief for withdrawal symptoms (frequently mistaken as "stress and anxiety" due to other life pressures) is so strong that the thought of treatment creates enormous anxiety and fear for the addict.

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