Drug addiction at work: How to address addictions in the workplace

Addiction can affect an employee’s ability to contribute to your company’s success. How can you address problems with drugs or alcohol in the workplace? Learn more here.

minute read

The most valuable resource of any company, large or small, is its people. Without healthy, productive, capable employees, no business can remain competitive and profitable. But what can you do when employees might have problems with drugs or alcohol?

We review here. Then, we invite your questions or comments about workplace processes and addiction treatment at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all questions or comments with a personal, prompt response.

How can addictions affect the workplace?

Chemical dependency or compulsive addictions can dramatically affect an employee’s ability to contribute to your company’s success. In economic terms, an addiction can lead to a drop in productivity, reduced product quality, increased absenteeism, and higher health care costs. In human terms, an addiction can lead to failed marriages, broken homes, severe emotional problems, and even death. Depending on the nature of the individual’s work, public safety can be jeopardized.

A Q&A with experts who can help

Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery has established a program for employers to offer a comprehensive program of evaluation, treatment, counseling and support for employees and their families. In this interview, we talk to Sandra Beecher, Corporate Services Clinician, about how to address addictions in the workplace. At the end, if you have any additional questions or want to leave a comment, please send us a message in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

ADDICTION BLOG: To your best estimate, how prevalent are chemical addictions in our nation’s workplaces at the moment?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Addiction impacts individuals from all demographic backgrounds at varying levels of employment in the workplace.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) is the primary source for information on prevalence, patterns, and consequences of drugs and alcohol abuse in the US. In the 2015 April report by CBHSA, 10% of workplace individuals were reported to struggle with substance use disorder.  More specifically, 8.7% of full-time workers (age 18-64) used alcohol heavily and 8.6% used illicit drugs.

ADDICTION BLOG: How does alcohol and drug addiction affect cost of business or workplace operations?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: The cost of chemical addictions to workplace operations is numerous.  The negative consequences can range from:

  • impaired decision-making
  • loss of productivity
  • absenteeism
  • injury

Furthermore, if left untreated, addiction can contribute to:

  • increased conflict among co-workers
  • increased theft rates
  • increased employee turnover

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some examples of what happens when businesses fail to address the substance use problems among employees? What are some common outcomes or results of ignoring the issue?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: The cost of ignoring addiction in the workplace is largely centered on a decrease in company production/efficiency, decreased company morale, and increased risk to employee safety on the job.  The company solution to workplace addiction is not effectively found in ignoring the issue but in linking the impaired individual to resources.

ADDICTION BLOG: What might an ideal workplace program to address addiction look like?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: A variety of policies and programs can be implemented to improve awareness of the impact of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and also to link those addicted to appropriate services.

Firstly, it is important for a company to have written policies to guide supervisory intervention.  It is essential for supervisors and employees to be well versed in these policies.

Further, a workplace culture that is focused on wellness and risk awareness is beneficial. Many individuals are misinformed about the signs/symptoms of addiction. Employees can receive appropriate help when exposed to community resources and information on the signs/symptoms of addiction in the workplace setting.  This information is most commonly provided by an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides a safe and confidential environment for consultation and referrals for help with addiction.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are the symptoms of employee problems with drugs or alcohol and how do managers typically recognize addiction in a workplace?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Employers may witness a variety of changes that can serve as warning signs of addiction.  This may include:

  • changes in the employee’s attitude and behavior
  • loss of productivity
  • loss of interest in work responsibilities
  • tardiness

Other intrapersonal changes include:

  • increased tolerance for the drug-of-choice
  • withdrawal from the drug
  • preoccupation with chemical use
  • changes in lifestyle
  • loss of control when using
  • attempts to cut back or control
  • continued use despite recommendation by a healthcare provider

ADDICTION BLOG: What is the average annual financial cost for program implementation?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: For most companies, it is more cost-effective to help addicted employees seek treatment services than to terminate and replace these employees. The cost of program implementation is contingent upon the scope of resources offered to the company’s employees.

Low-cost strategies at a minimum can focus on having a written policy on substance abuse in the workplace in addition to providing employees with educational information that can be free by calling a resource such as 1-800-WORKPLACE.  Higher-cost is involved when implementing more extensive strategies, such as having an EAP.  However, EAP programs in the workplace typically compensate by decreasing accidents, decreasing health plan use, and decreasing worker’s compensation.

ADDICTION BLOG: How does workplace addiction affect the bottom line?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Addiction can negatively impact a company’s productivity and in turn financial gains.  No workplace is free from addiction.  Therefore, the incentive for all business to promote substance abuse awareness is imperative. The workplace can be an effective place for substance abuse intervention to begin.

ADDICTION BLOG: Can all workplaces address substance use disorders, or is ability based on company size?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Yes, companies large or small can provide a safe and confidential setting to encourage employees to seek help when impacted by addiction.

ADDICTION BLOG: Who typically manages a substance abuse program that would include evaluation, treatment, counseling and support for employees and their families? What kinds of credential or qualifications are necessary?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Credentialing is important to assist in the standardization of addiction care.  Individuals managing a substance abuse treatment program typically have a bachelor’s or master’s level degree with addiction specific licensing.  Therapists may be licensed as any of the following:

  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW)
  • Licensed clinical professional counselors (LCPC)
  • Certified alcohol and drug counselors (CADC)

…to name a few.  Credentialing combined with addiction treatment experience aids a therapist in providing professional, ethical, and compassionate care.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

ILLINOIS INSTITUTE FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY: Help is only a phone call away.  IIAR can be contacted to assist any employer in answering questions to better understand the disease of addiction/treatment opportunities.  Don’t hesitate to contact The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at 1-800-522DRUG. Help can also be provided by Brittany Ott, Corporate Service Clinician, at 309-212-8349.

IIAR responses are supported by information taken from Substance Abuse Prevention in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide, 1998.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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