Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use: What to Look for in Your Employees

Drug abuse can affect all different kinds of people and in many different ways. People start taking drugs for a number of reasons, and a few include stresses at home, work, child care, and their financial situation. Even if you require drug testing at your place of work, you can’t guarantee that all employees will remain drug-free. And the nature of drug abuse is defined by a person’s lack of control in stopping or reducing drug use.

For all workplaces that involve the use of heavy machinery and vehicles, like trucking companies, public transportation, and limousine companies, ensuring a drug-free workplace is crucial. Random drug testing has been shown to drastically reduce drugs in the workplace, but employees can still show up to work under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

As an owner of a transportation company, it is your responsibility to ensure your employees don’t compromise the safety of your customers, and you need to watch out for these signs of symptoms of drug use:

Physical Symptoms

Someone who is under the influence of a substance will most likely display physical traits that are not normal to their regular appearance. Long-term drug abuse will definitely show more severe physical changes, but even a one-time drug use can affect how someone appears at work. The changes in appearance due to drug use may include: bloodshot or glassy eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, changes in weight, lack of hygiene, bruises, infections, and needle marks on skin.

Behavioral Signs

Drug use affects a person’s behavior as well as their appearance because drugs affect the brain’s communication system which can alter a person’s emotions and habits. When someone is under the influence of a substance, you may be able to notice these behavioral changes: irritability, aggression, sleepiness, clumsiness, slurred speech, talking excessively, and depression. Changes may also affect their work and may include reduced productivity, tardiness, and absenteeism.

If you suspect an employee is under the influence, follow these six steps:

Check Your Policy

All transportation companies have a drug and alcohol policy and it should include testing for reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion of drug use means that you have the right to drug test an employee if you notice any of these concerning symptoms. Transportation employees directly affect the safety of their customers and the public when they get behind the steering wheel. You need to do everything you can to ensure your employees are not taking drugs, and random and reasonable suspicion testing will help you do that.


If an employee has recent behavioral and physical changes, chances are, you will hear about the concerns from your other employees and even customers first. They are the ones who work with the employee on a day-to-day basis and should be encouraged to come to you with their concerns with the assurance of being kept anonymous. As soon as you hear any concerns from your employees or customers, be sure to adequately document their concerns and any details they can provide.

Observe Behavior

Once you receive any concerns about an employee’s drug use, you will need to carefully observe their behavior and actions. You should also ask a second supervisor to help you observe the employee because you can’t keep track of one employee by yourself every day. And because an employee taking drugs may do things to hide their behavior, it is important to have more than one person keeping track of them. Details to note include any unusual smells on the person’s breath, body, and clothing, abnormal speech, excessive sweating, and sudden changes in personality.

Meet with the Employee

After concerns and details have been documented, you should schedule a private meeting with the employee. Ask the supervisor who has been helping you observe sit in with you to act as a witness. The next step will be determined by what’s included in your company’s policy.

Drug Test

A drug policy that includes reasonable suspicion testing means the employee has to adhere to your testing requests. Contact the drug testing facility you use and inform them of an employee who will be undergoing reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing. You may need to obtain a drug testing consent form with the employee’s signature before they can be sent for testing. Employees should not drive themselves to the testing because they may, in fact, be under the influence of drugs. Provide transportation for the employee, and if they refuse or complain about the testing, let them know that a refusal will be treated as a positive result or will result in termination of employment.

Take the Next Step

If the drug test comes back positive for substances or alcohol, you will need to look into the next steps, which will include a return-to-duty drug testing. This is required for all transportation professionals who have previously tested positive for drugs. They need to complete the return-to-duty testing process, which will include a negative drug test, for workers to resume their workplace roles.

Although you can’t guarantee employees stay away from drugs and alcohol completely, you can do your best to ensure they stay out of the workplace and don’t affect the safety of your customers, other employees, or the public. Adopt a comprehensive drug policy and hire the services of a DOT-compliant drug testing company to manage random drug testing, all other types of testing, and the management of a drug-free workplace program.