A Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a vital defender of the public interest. He or she holds a unique position that straddles the public and private arenas, regardless of their employer. This fact is reflected in the many national, state, and local guidelines and regulations that govern their role.
Substance Abuse Advocacy
The Substance Abuse Professional does not advocate for the employer or the employee. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that public safety, public trust, commerce, and customer service are priorities when instances of substance abuse arise in the workplace.
As the U.S. Department of Transportation puts it, Substance Abuse Professionals "represent the major decision point (and in some cases the only decision point) an employer may have in choosing whether or not to place an employee behind the steering wheel of a school bus, in the cockpit of a plane, at the helm of an oil tanker, at the throttle of a train, in the engineer compartment of a subway car, or at the emergency control valves of a natural gas pipeline."
Most Substance Abuse Professionals are not required to make life and death decisions such as these, however every SAP must make decisions that affect the culture of an organization and the careers - and lives - of those who are dedicated to it.
The Danger of Unchecked Substance Abuse
Unchecked substance abuse leads to low morale and declining performance in every facet of operation. The loss of focus that accompanies substance abuse will spread to co-workers as they attempt to navigate a plethora of social and professional obstacles that detract from team camaraderie and mission.
Without a trained Substance Abuse Professional to assess and intervene, a manager is placed in an untenable position - one that requires both understanding and experience with addiction and mental health. The employer and employee immediately find themselves in an adversarial relationship and the risk of misjudgment is greater, as each responds to pressures and incentives that lie beyond optimal health and well-being.
This is not conducive to resolution - satisfactory or otherwise. Rather, more problems are created, more feelings are hurt, more trust is destroyed - even in situations that do not require more than a simple corrective action.
Substance Abuse Professionals bring increased transparency and openness to any organization. When instances of substance abuse are resolved systematically and on their own merits, more people are encouraged to step forward and the response engenders greater respect.
Substance Abuse Professionals have enormous responsibility and are a value added addition to any organization.