Substance abuse and alcohol abuse affects every facet of an individual’s life. From their personal relationships and family to the workplace, addiction does not discriminate between one are of life versus another. One of the most immediate areas in which the impact of excessive drug and alcohol abuse is in the workplace. On the job, the highest rates of substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder; occur in the construction, entertainment, recreation, and food service industries. The issue of substance use on the job is further complicated by the ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as by the legalization of marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes in many states. Even over-the-counter and legally prescribed medications that are used as directed can create a safety hazard if they cause drowsiness or other potentially hazardous side effects. When substances are misused, the risk increases further. Therefore, employers are advised to develop clear policies that address the hazards of substance use on the job and communicate the company’s expectations surrounding drug and alcohol use in the workplace.

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that nearly 11 million full-time workers in the United States struggle with substance use disorder. Very often, these workers’ drug or alcohol issues are directly tied in with their professional lives; as the majority of the time, these individuals put their careers and financial wellness at risk, which leads to more hardship, trauma, and stress for which they may continue to self-medicate; a vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself.

What Does Substance Use Disorders Cost Employers?

In addition to individual employees, workplace substance abuse has the potential to cripple productivity, derail an organization’s expansion and diminish its bottom line. The ripple effect of these issues, no matter the size of the company in question, can create serious long-term economic and employee-wellness issues. The Office of the Surgeon General reports that substance misuse is estimated to cost society $442 billion each year. Employers absorb the bulk of these costs through healthcare expenditures, absenteeism and lost productivity. The National Safety Council reports that Americans who are struggling with an opioid addiction miss nearly 50 percent more work than the average employee who does not abuse opioids. Additional data indicate that workers struggling with painkiller misuse cost employers three times as much in healthcare costs than other personnel who do not struggle with painkiller misuse.

The Human Cost: Safety and Productivity of Staff

In addition to the immediate and hidden economic costs, alcohol abuse in the workplace can very easily create a toxic corporate culture and place other employees in immediate danger. According to Tenet Diagnostics, up to 20 percent of work-related fatality victims test positive for drugs or alcohol, and 40 percent of all industrial workplace fatalities are caused by substance abusers. The United States Department of Labor has reported 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to the abuse of alcohol or drugs in the workplace. There are also everyday concerns with which other colleagues of alcohol abuse users have to contend, including having to absorb extra work, missing important deadlines because of their absenteeism, inability to communicate with them on important projects effectively. These everyday issues can lead to a serious decline in morale and a corresponding plummet in productivity.

Dealing with Employee Substance Abuse

There are mainly three ways that an employer can address substance abuse in their ranks: ignoring it, firing the employee or helping them get back on their feet. Ignoring the problem has enormous and potentially catastrophic consequences while firing the employee can send a toxic signal to other employees and also create undue legal exposure. Helping guide the employee toward treatment is a proactive, compassionate and ultimately cost-effective course of action that lets them know they are a valued part of the organization. Many employees routinely attempt to hide their addiction through direct fear of losing their jobs. As a result, they pose a greater and greater risk to their colleagues and employers as time goes on until their issue is ultimately discovered. If they feel their jobs are secure, an employee may feel more inclined to seek treatment to improve their life.

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Accessed 1/13/2019