As Dennis Weaver made poignantly clear in NBC-TV's Sunday-night production of "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction," drugs can be an insidious--and potentially debilitating--crutch of the upwardly mobile, the fiercely competitive career person battling for more status, power, money.

"Cocaine addition is not a problem limited to the wild and restless," says a recent Los Angeles Times story. "More and more, professionals balance their careers on a thin white line."

The Wall Street Journal reports concern inside the Chicago Board of Trade about the effects of long work hours on employes. It seems that cocaine use is more prevalent among those with high-pressure, low-profile jobs, as opposed to those who deal with people face to face.

An Insurance Magazine article, "Pushers on the Payroll," reports that Houston oil-field workers broke into the plant office to steal money for drugs. The connection of cocaine with once-glittering names like Peter Pulitzer, John De Lorean and John Lucas is well known.

Also, says Savvy Magazine writer Marcia Stamell, "There's a new class of drug addict: they work in corporate offices and shoot up in executive washrooms.

"Drug researchers know that hard drug use among the privileged classes has skyrocketed in the last four or five years, but because this new breed of junkie causes no social problems--they don't pass out on park benches, they don't steal your TV to support their habits--they are rarely arrested."

What's going on?

Dale Masi, an employe counselor with the Department of Health and Human Services, on loan from the University of Maryland, where she is affiliated with the Social Work and Business schools, says she thinks "we're just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg.

"The kids of the '60s are now moving up through the ranks of the workplace, but some have kept their old habits. They have picked up pinstripes, but they haven't put down their 'bongs.'

"These people are now in their thirties and are starting to hit new life crises, like deaths of parents, splits in relationships. During the 1950s, when people hit these periods of vunerability, they drank more alcohol. But the children of the '60s take drugs."

While alcohol abuse is still the number one drug problem, heroin and cocaine are making dramatic gains in popular use. According to the FDA, there are nearly a half-million heroin addicts in the United States and about 15 million regular cocaine users.

The National Survey of Drug Abuse reports that heroin use doubled and cocaine use tripled from 1976 to 1979 among adults over 25. The rate of cocaine-related deaths quadrupled in 1981, with almost 300 fatalities--most of which occurred after users smoked or injected the drug.

"It's very rare today to have a pure alcoholic," says Masi. "Most of them are also taking other drugs. We realize now that we have to learn a lot more about drugs. We're just at the beginning stages of putting it all together."

While many employers--including police departments, the armed forces and large manufacturers--are resorting to such methods as urine analyses to detect drug users, Masi is against what she calls "witch hunts." Instead, she is pursuing alternatives that are "more beneficial to both employer and employe."

The key, as she sees it, is in the establishment of employe counseling programs aimed at using the job itself as part of the therapy.

For example, she notes, "The average person with an alcohol problem will give up his or her family five years before they give up their job, so the job can be used as leverage. Some supervisors don't want to confront employes about problems like this thinking they are saving the person's job. But what they are doing is killing the person."

A major problem associated with the use of cocaine is "cocaine corruption," says Masi, who has written one book, "Human Services in Industry," and is working on another dealing with employe-assistance programs. "That has to do with the cost of cocaine and how it affects an employe's money."

Ultimately, she stresses, drug abuse is symptomatic of other problems. Research on employes across the nation shows:

* 18 percent of the employe population at any given time is suffering from serious personal problems.

* 10 percent are in the middle stages of alcoholism.

* 5 percent have drug problems.

* The average troubled employe works only 140 out of 200 days a year.

"This doesn't mean that you can find these 18 percent and get rid of them," says Masi. "These problems affect all of us. For example, a sudden death in the family can cause a real crisis. There are also real problems from legal drugs such as sleeping pills."

The cost to employers through absenteeism and health insurance alone exceeds $25 billion a year, says Masi, enough to persuade an increasing number of corporations to look further into their "problem employes." More than 60 percent of the Fortune 500 companies now have employe counseling programs, she says, and there are about 5,000 such programs nationwide.

"The programs save lives and save money, so the bottom line is doubly marvelous. People often ask, 'What about the problems caused by the workplace?' But what we have found is that only 20 percent of your problems are work-related. We used to blame the workplace, but the fact is people get a great deal of satisfaction out of work."

Employe counseling revolves around the supervisor, who is trained to look for declining job performance--not alcoholism or drug abuse. The signs of trouble, says Masi, are often easy to spot.

During early phases, an employe may have attendance problems--coming back from lunch late and leaving work early. Cocaine snorters spend an excessive amount of time in the restroom and are constantly tending to their runny noses.

"They overreact to criticism and usually have a lot of complaints themselves," says Masi. "They miss deadlines and make a lot of mistakes."

In the later stages, an employe may start avoiding associates, exaggerate accomplishments and become increasingly hostile. Breakup of the family is usually not far behind.

"An employe will rarely come in and say he or she has a problem," says Masi. "But when job performance deteriorates, a supervisor should step in."