Addiction in the Workplace: Employers Provide Helping Hand


By Allan McDougall

Anyone who battles addiction knows that it’s much more than a bad habit or a moral shortcoming. Addiction is a compulsion so beyond our control, that we may as well be a feather fighting against a gale-force wind. Luckily for me, people at my workplace pulled me out of the storm.

I was a hard rock miner at the time and, fortunately, my union, the United Steelworkers, had an Employee Assistance Program whose staff guided me to the treatment I needed. They accepted me as a person who has a problem, not a problem person, and put me on the road to recovering my sobriety and my dignity.

Employers have day-to-day interaction with their workers and are key in identifying addiction-related problems. They can be the conduits to life-saving treatment. And, employers have an economic incentive, with costs up to $68 billion annually associated with lost performance from addicts in the workforce.

I know from my own 22-year battle with alcoholism that even after ruining my marriage, draining my bank account, and lying to everyone who cared about me, I was rooted in the clutches of my addiction. Whenever my supervisor brought up my drinking problem, I’d tell him I had just started counseling. As a miner, I was fairly autonomous and could hide my addiction for a long time, but my addiction wore on my productivity. My moment of reckoning came when my body rebelled and I couldn’t keep the alcohol down. That day, I figured I had three choices: 1) continue drinking and end up institutionalized; 2) commit suicide; or 3) find a way to stop drinking. I chose option three.

As the quote wisely states, “The anticipation of change is worse than undergoing the actual event,” but that doesn’t mean change was easy. Still, even in my beaten-down state with no shred of self-respect remaining, the EAP started my process to make my way back from the living dead.

For anyone trying to overcome addiction, these eight strategies, discovered while putting AA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions into practice to the best of my ability, led me to a successful outcome:

1. Choose a sponsor or mentor who is successful in life. This doesn’t only apply to those in Alcoholics Anonymous, but also when choosing mentors or sponsors for any area of your life. Being around people who are successful can help your life unfold in ways you never expected. As my mentor, Les Brown, a motivational speaker, says: “If you think you’re the smartest person in the group, get a new group.”

2. Steal ideas from others. During my recovery, I emulated any ideas, behaviors, or strategies that seemed to work for others. If someone recommended a book, I’d read it. If people talked about a retreat they went to, I signed up. It matters less where the idea comes from, and more that it could work for you.

3. Accept help. Another lesson I learned is that when you sincerely begin the effort to change your life, people will notice and come crawling out of the woodwork to help you. People at the United Steelworker EAP went the extra mile to help. Mentors came into my life with lessons that I applied to keep me moving forward. Decency and willingness to help were all around me. It was just up to me to accept it.

4. Recognize symbolism. Once you move beyond the self-centered mindset of addiction and start to become other-centered, you notice things about the world that were there all along but you were blind to. Sights or sounds take on new significance. For me, the noise of city traffic and the bustle of airports and train stations give me goose bumps because they show I am back in the land of the living; I am here amid the movement and activity and excitement where anything is possible. Notice the symbolism behind whatever makes you tear up or gives you an overwhelming sense of excitement and realize the message it brings.

5. Know that change takes time. Sobriety is an ongoing process, not an instantaneous event. Today’s society is caught up in instant gratification, but it’s a fallacy to think you can fast-track recovery from addiction. It takes time to build trust and to gain self-esteem. After more than 20 years, I’m still mining the vein of self-discovery and am convinced it’s a bottomless source.

6. Proclaim your uniqueness. You are a unique individual. No one else has your thoughts, your ideas, or your experiences. Not only do you have to recognize your uniqueness, you have to proclaim it. When you can express who you are, what you can bring to the table, and why anyone should care, people will more easily accept and be open with you.

7. Be ready for opportunities. Life presents opportunities when you least expect them. It’s up to you, though, to keep an open mind and recognize them when they come. Early in my sobriety, I attended union-sponsored health and safety workshops just to keep myself busy. Later, one of these actually led to a job. Take time to know yourself and know what you’re after, then, as you’re taking steps to get there, watch for opportunities to present themselves.  

8. Let small successes add up to big ones. Change usually isn’t about stepping through a door, but about taking baby steps to arrive where you want to go. The AA adage, “One day at a time,” is invaluable. I firmly believe that’s all we’re guaranteed. I need to make use of each day the best I can. By placing one foot in front of the other along the course you’ve set, slowly you’ll recognize that life is improving, maybe not spectacularly, but incrementally. Eventually, your small successes — staying sober for a month, three months, a year, 10 years — add up to a huge success. 

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ALLAN MCDOUGALL was a long-time miner in Northern Ontario who skillfully tells the powerful story of his personal self-destructive path into alcohol abuse in his book Breaking Through – Discovering the Riches Within (AM Publishing). Allan now inspires audiences to evaluate whether they or their loved ones are following similar self-destructive habits, and motivates people to take the actions required to change lives for the better. 

Known for his visionary and strategic leadership, Allan also facilitates educational programs nationally and internationally, and implements and conducts accredited courses.

Allan is a powerful speaker and trainer, and member of Les Brown’s elite Platinum Speaking Network, as well as Toastmasters International. He integrates proven strategies into personalized programs. Allan’s real-life experiences, energy and captivating style influence, motivate, educate and inspire audiences. Visit