I was recently running a training course, teaching supervisors at a large leisure company how to drug test their employees. One of the delegates asked me a question that I had been asked literally hundreds of times before: “why do people take substances that make them lose touch with reality?” My answer is, as it always is: “I really don’t know”. It never makes sense to anyone who likes the world they live in.

I train around 800 young people every year in drug and alcohol awareness programmes. Through the conversations I have had with these young people, they say that taking substances helps them to escape from, and alter their reality. Most users of drugs take substances in the company of others, so in some ways it’s a social thing. Paradoxically, however their experiences while under the influence of these substances are really quite solitary. It is in effect something they go through on their own but in the company of others. Partly because they feel safer and partly because they enjoy watching each other under the influence.

What surprises me however is that the information that they have about the drugs they take, most of it is based on hearsay not fact. When I explain the realities of taking drugs like ecstasy, Ketamine, cocaine, etc., the long term effects and what the drugs are likely to contain, they appear shocked or ambivalent.

When I teach companies how to test employees I always stress the importance of filtering this information to the workforce. It’s all very well introducing a drug and alcohol policy, but if employees are not made aware of how long drugs stay in the system or how long it takes for the body to lose alcohol, then employers can very well find that the amount of positive tests are far higher than they imagined.

I recently went to a large local industrial company where they wanted us to run a random drug and alcohol testing programme. They told me that they didn’t think they had people in the workplace under the influence of drugs, but they had introduced a testing policy purely on the grounds of good Health and Safety. The first five employees that I tested on the first day failed the drug test. Needless to say this was a huge shock and wake up call to the company.

I would always advise that if you intend to run any kind of workplace testing procedures that you find a way to explain to employees exactly what that means, and provide additional information about the actual effects of drug and alcohol use.