As a result of media coverage and personal experiences, many people understand that abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs are persistent issues in society. What some may not fully understand is how this abuse affects the workplace and how the workplace may affect substance abuse.
According to a 2012 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 68 percent of all illicit drug users are employed full or part time. The same applies for binge and heavy alcohol drinkers.1 Many job duties involve being alert and accurate, having quick reflexes and being efficient in completing tasks. When a person is impaired, it can lead to accidents, inefficiency and reduced productivity. Absenteeism due to recovering from the effects of substance abuse and related illnesses can also be costly to businesses. In 2002, a study conducted in Canada found that substance abuse cost their economy more than $39.8 billion.2
Employers and Substance Abuse
Substance abuse effects that affect employers include:3
- Employees being late or sleeping on the job
- Poor decision making, problems performing duties
- Decreased efficiency
- Low morale of coworkers
- High rate of turnover and increased training costs for new employees
- Costs of disciplinary procedures and drug testing programs
Employees and Substance Abuse
Job-related stress may encourage some to turn to substances to cope. These include:
- High stress
- Low job satisfaction
- Long hours, irregular shifts
- Fatigue, isolation
- Repetitive tasks
- Periods of inactivity and boredom
- Remote, irregular or abusive supervision
Since 68 percent of alcohol abusers and about the same percentage of drug users are employed, the workplace is a valuable opportunity to reach out with resources to encourage people to get into recovery. Employers and employees can meet and agree on guidelines and programs that would benefit both sides.
One tool that can have a significant impact on abuse in the workplace is an employee assistance program (EAP). These types of programs offer counseling and assistance in connecting employees who have abuse issues with treatment programs. Also, encouraging people in recovery to work helps them maintain their sober lives. It also helps improve job performance, decreases tardiness and improves efficiency and morale.
For these programs to be effective, drug testing, trained staff and workplace monitoring should be in place to implement this type of treatment. While it may add to overhead for the business, the benefits of increased productivity, less absenteeism, improved decision-making and lower turnover may offset the cost of an EAP.
Changing Society Through the Workplace
An important first step in addressing the problem of substance abuse in the workplace is the awareness that it is a common problem not just shared by families and friends, but one that also extends into employers’ and employees’ relationships.
Once acknowledged, the resources and contacts being made between people who have the means and motivation to offer recovery aid—employers—to those who need treatment—employees—can have a profound positive impact on society at large. Both employers and employees will benefit from these changes, improving lives as well as profits.