The U.S. Department of Transportation requires substance abuse training for managers and supervisors so they can properly respond to employees in regulated positions who may be under the influence of alcohol or other prohibited psychoactive substances. The DOT does not require employee drug and alcohol awareness, but you should 100% consider doing it.
This ability to participate in reasonable suspicion identification and referral saves lives but it has to be taught. The skills associated with spotting reasonable suspicion do include basic behavioral clues – signs and symptoms, but it also includes qualitative material to help supervisors overcome myths and misconceptions about addiction because it is these more complex elements of training that free the supervisor to act on the more academic information associated with symptomatology.
The purpose of the training as far as the U.S. government DOT is concerned is making supervisors more aware of what substance abuse in the workplace looks like. But as mentioned, there is a lot more to DOT compliance training online (or offline) for supervisors that gets accomplished if you do this sort of training properly. If you have not offered general supervisory skills training using a PowerPoint or a web course, for your current supervisors, consider working toward this goal.
The really effective way for finding workers who have ongoing substance abuse problems is not looking for their symptoms of intoxication, blood shot eyes, and needle tracks on the arms. But this is what the feds what you to look for now, despite the fact that these direct symptoms failed to really every find addicts. Instead performance issues worked much better.
So, we gave up on this approach to educate supervisors in the late 1960’s with pure alcoholism symptoms, but it is back again with the federal legislation and the drug free workplace laws of the feds have now established. That’s okay. None of this will hurt as long as the other approach to look for performance issues remain top of mind.
So, yes, it important to know about the signs and symptoms of physical substance abuse of course—glassy eyes, the shakes, etc., but it is even more important to have a nice long list of performance-related problems that often continue due to substance abuse—particularly when they don’t go away despite a supervisor’s attempt to correct them in the normal course of using routine supervision practices.
A Lot More than Drug and Alcohol Education for Supervisors or Employees
There seven key advantages, that you might be surprised to learn are of no interest to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and each of these accrue to your company when you conduct DOT reasonable suspicion training of supervisors. Briefly, I will list them here.
These seven things include the following, but we will discuss them all in detail below.
1. Self-diagnosis When supervisors sit in DOT supervisor training, they hear about all the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and some of them discover they are alcoholic. We’ll discuss why and how this happens.
2. Helping a Family Member One out of four of us has an alcoholic in our immediately family. These family members cause many problems and the emotional anguish due to alcoholism. Training motivates supervisors to intervene with these problem family members so many get into treatment and recovery because of your training.
3. Stopping Employee Enabling No drug or alcoholic employee lasts very long with their problematic drinking and behavior unless enabled by friends and family, coworkers, and bosses.
4. Awareness and Prevention of Addiction from Protracted Abuse Learning about addiction can cause employees and supervisors to quit using drugs or alcohol because of spotting their alcoholism --- at least temporarily because they are frightened by the education. .
5. Increased awareness for the DOT supervisor’s drinking style Any person who sits and learns about alcoholism and addictive disease is going to think about their own drinking and drug use practices. Non-alcoholics may slow down or cut back or simply pay more attention to the consumption and the consequences, or of friends and family members. They will pay close attention to their bodies to see if further clues of withdrawal. They are not alcoholic, but just checking to see if they still have control of use, amount, time, effects, and consequences.
6. Immediate Decrease in Absenteeism from Controlled Drinking When alcoholic employees stop drinking, they get better and start to heal. These means less absenteeism, and it can happen overnight.
7. Supervisors Confronts Workers More Often DOT Supervisors educated about addictive disease suddenly see the light and begin an accelerated understanding about why they must begin confronting employees who could be under the influence. They wake up!
So, let’s look at little closer at these seven benefits:
When supervisors sit in DOT supervisor training, they hear about all the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and some of them discover they are alcoholic.
This most often occurs around the alcoholism awareness session that discusses definition, tolerance, blackouts, withdrawal symptoms, and other people’s reaction to the alcoholic’s behavior.
These supervisors until now have had a definition of alcoholism that does not include themselves. Now they are included.
You may see supervisors with this sort of experience protest the definition of alcoholism or give examples of people they personally know who stopped drinking, and now drink normally.
You will literally see DOT Supervisor start to squirm in their seats when they begin to hear information about addiction that is in direct contrast with their age-old, wrongfully understood definitions, repeated over and over to themselves.
Many supervisors using minor tranquilizers will discover everything they don’t want to know about cross tolerance and cross addiction with benzodiazepines that they take now to ward off withdrawal symptoms.
Be sure to invite supervisors to contact you after training if they feel anxious and want to probe questions about addiction.
2. Helping a Family Member
One out of four of us has an alcoholic in our immediately family. These family members cause many problems and the emotional anguish. Most family members and especially spouses or partners say all the wrong things trying to get alcoholics to quit or cut back. What makes these family member get sicker is enabling.
Enabling is role, not just a set of behaviors. This role by definition is one that seeks to adapt to the dysfunction of the alcoholic. DOT Supervisor Training PowerPoint program and other training programs seldom discuss this issue in depth, but in almost all instances keen awareness is achieved for those who participate in alcohol and drug awareness programs.
Supervisors who trained in reasonable suspicion almost immediate begin to stop enabling. When this happens, the balance of dysfunction in the family is disrupted, conflict ensues, and crisis can lead to an ill family member entering treatment.
Supervisors become motivated to intervene with these problem family members when they go home after training, having been fired. Society benefits as a whole when this happens, and in multifaceted ways. If a family member does get into treatment in the future, helping support that family member in recovery is dramatically more likely
3. Stopping Employee Enabling
No drug addicted or alcoholic employee lasts very long without their problematic drinking and behavior being enabled by friends and family. Enabling helps addicts escape the direct or indirect consequences of their drinking or drug use behaviors.
Once supervisors in reasonable suspicion training classes realize the powerful role of enabling, the usually stop doing it and dramatically shift to its opposite – nature. They let nature or the law of consequences take place so the alcoholic or drug addict experiences pain.
The new behaviors of educated supervisors who will refer to the company employee assistance program and who are motivated to stop enabling doesn’t last long because being in a relationship with addict means fighting against the over-adapted, and deeply engrained, maladaptive defense mechanisms of the addict. Most people will succumb. However, for a brief moment, the damage to the enabling process is impactful. As a result, the crisis is likely to produce a motivated addict who wants treatment.
4. Awareness and Prevention of Addiction by Protracted Abuse
Learning about addiction can cause employees and supervisors to quit using drugs or alcohol, and sometimes this abstinence period can last quite a long time. What’s the dynamic taking place here? (By the way DOT drug and alcohol education often has the most impact on marijuana users because they also are given clear information about marijuana addiction.)
Your DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training is only as valuableto the extent that it can deliver information to dispel myths about addiction, along with directly confronting employees’ misguided definitions about addiction and substance abuse dependency. Once this happens, the magic begins.
Personally, I love giving live presentations using a reasonable suspicion training PowerPoint because I can witness student supervisors and their emotional reaction to content, and know from their emotional reactions, that I am hitting home with my message. Motivation to intervene, step up, and refer employees who are under the influence is virtually assured.
When the myths of supervisors are confronted, it can shock one’s system. All the denial temporarily develops “cracks.” People become highly motivated to accomplish a several of things:
1) Employees become highly motivated to prove to themselves and others that they have control over drinking;
2) Employees try to stop drinking to see if it is possible to stay stopped; and
3) Fear of bodily harm from drinking motivates the drinker (supervisor employee) to stop using.
No strategy to stop using completely will work for very long – that is a lifetime—without a programming way to do it. I don’t dive into Alcoholics Anonymous, but I do make strong references to such programs.
However, here is the beauty of the testing of one’s inability to stay stopped from drinking or psychoactive drugs – it nearly always fails and these abstinence periods don’t last, but they are absolutely part of the path to permanent cessation of alcohol and other drugs of abuse.
As a decision maker, you can see that all of these activities reduce risks and costs for employers.
5. Increased awareness for the DOT supervisor’s drinking style while viewing a DOT PowerPoint for Reasonable Suspicion
What is your drinking style? Drinking styles are influenced by many things. One is genetics, and the other is the social/occupational environment’s contribution to consumption of alcohol. A business or sales person on travel is going to drink more frequently than a school teach focused education small children. You can see the obvious reasons why.
Anyone who sits and learns about alcoholism and addictive disease is going to think about their own drinking and drug use practices. These self-observations have already been explained to oneself over many years. Disrupting these models of addiction has ramifications, particularly for the definition of alcoholism that most addicts avoid. DOT supervisors training interrupts the progression of the disease that appears that can appear in performance.
The value of this personal awareness is an earlier decision down the road to get treatment and recover from addictive disease with the untold costs to self, family, and community that will never be realized.
6. Immediate Decrease in Absenteeism from Controlled Drinking
When alcoholic employees stop drinking, they get better than well as they start to heal. Drug and alcohol awareness education for DOT supervisory personnel can have a serious effect on reducing absenteeism almost immediately. This is also true for drug and alcohol awareness programs for employees in general, so consider adding an employee module in addition to the supervisor training.
Many employees with absenteeism problems are alcoholic, and their sudden motivation to control drinking has serious effects. These means less absenteeism in many cases and early arrival to work. Suddenly, the worker is focused on productivity and maximizing it.
7. Supervisors Confronts Workers More Often
DOT Reasonable Suspicion Training for Supervisors educate learners about addictive disease. They suddenly see the light and begin an accelerated understanding about why they must begin confronting employees who could be under the influence. They wake up!
When confrontation begins, I suggest you allow supervisors the ability to review material quickly, especially as it pertains to avoiding the excuses employees use to avoid confrontation.
Dan Feerst, MSW, LISW-CP is an international author and consultant on workplace behavioral risk, substance abuse intervention, training, and growing utilization with employee assistance programs. You can reach him at 1-800-626-4327.