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How to support PR colleagues who suffer from addiction, by The Priory Hospital’s Claire Rimmer

Working in PR can be stressful and this stress can trigger addictions, from alcohol to gambling. Should an addiction grip a colleague, worries about stigma may lead them to hide their symptoms meaning that their condition can go unnoticed. So how can you spot someone struggling with addiction and take the initial steps to help them?

Claire Rimmer, lead addictions therapist at The Priory Hospital, Altrincham, offers her advice.

Here I explain some of the sensitivities surrounding mental health and addiction, and discuss ways to support any colleagues who are affected.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a mental health condition that results when an act or substance is used to the extent that it interferes and damages everyday life. Types of addictions may include, but are not limited to: alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, gambling, internet use, and eating disorders.

Who can become an addict?

Anyone can fall into an addiction, though there is a clear correlation between addiction and workplace stress.

One reason why PR people are susceptible, is because a lot of people with addiction problems are often very successful, for example they may have high levels of responsibility such as be in a senior management position. However, those with roles such as administrators and junior executives have the highest levels of mental health conditions (according to statistics from ONS).

How does addiction affect work?

Addiction can be devastating to all aspects of a person’s life potentially resulting in failed relationships, money problems and deep emotional instability. Addiction can also impact heavily on an individual’s workplace leading to decreased productivity, low attendance, and consequently high costs for a business.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that almost a third of organisations have dismissed employees, where the reason or a significant factor was an alcohol addiction. A survey on alcohol abuse at work by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern found that 27 per cent of employers say drug misuse is a problem at work, while 60 per cent of employers have experienced problems due to staff drinking alcohol. Though alcohol abuse is just one of many possible addictions, this suggests that supporting those with a possible addiction is both a business and a personnel necessity.

How to spot addiction at work

It is likely that colleagues may hide their addictive behaviour and therefore signs and symptoms can be difficult to spot. In fact symptoms of addiction will differ based on the substance or act, but you may notice the following signs:

  •     Changes in work attendance or performance
  •     Mood swings, with temper outbursts and negativity
  •     Withdrawal from responsibility
  •     A defensive attitude
  •     Frequent small accidents or mistakes
  •     Paranoia or overreaction to criticism
  •     Secretive or dishonest behaviour
  •     Distraction or seeming to be daydreaming
  •     Unexplained absences
  •     Sudden weight loss
  •     Lack of concern over appearance
  •     Tiredness

These symptoms will vary in severity, but if you find that an employee or colleague is displaying some of the above signs you may want to consider starting a supportive conversation with them

How to help a PR colleague with an addiction

It is important that you approach your colleague sensitively; showing support and understanding. Remember that you may be met with denial and defensiveness, so sensitivity is key.

To begin with, all businesses should have policies in place to ensure staff are as safe and supported as possible when dealing with, or talking about addiction. In keeping with this policy, the following steps may help you to raise the topic:

·     Bring up your concerns in person and in private

·     Speak in a friendly way, without judgement or accusation

·     Avoid mentions of feelings – stick to facts instead

·     Mention specific instances or events, rather than general, vague attitudes

·     Be solution-focused and positive in the way you address the next steps

To seek help with addictions and to find out more about the next possible steps, it is best advised to speak to a specialist. Mental health conditions need to be taken seriously and treated with openness and respect in the workplace. With the right support people can make a full recovery.

If you’d like to learn more about addiction, read the dedicated page on

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