Employee assistance programs and addiction: Can corporations fill the gap in treatment?

What is an EAP? And how are corporations filling the gap left by insurance companies in the treatment of substance abuse disorders? More here.

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Alcohol and drug addiction affect workplaces around the country. But in order to boast an effective, productive drug free workplace, treatment options need to be in place for employees.

Enter the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Benefiting both employers and employees, we still have a number of questions:

  • How are EAPs set up?
  • What’s the cost?
  • And how do they work?

To help clear up our questions about EAPs, today with us we have Bob VandePol, Executive Director of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services’ Employee Assistance and Church Assistance Programs. Pine Rest is a behavioral health provider based in West Michigan. They have been setting up faith based and corporate EAPs for years. He will talk about the benefits of having an EAP that specifically addresses substance abuse disorders. Also, he’ll explain what an ideal EAP looks like.

Read on to learn more about the benefits and the limitations of EAPs in a corporate environment, the cost of implementing such a program, and how these programs differ between corporations. Have more questions about EAP and addiction? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section at the end. We will take the time to make sure that you get an appropriate response ASAP.

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s the current stigma surrounding mental health treatments in the U.S.?

PINE REST: Unfortunately, stigma persists because of limited understanding. People typically provide support for medical conditions they can see and understand while reacting with fear or judgment when they don’t understand a mental health condition.

Sometimes a person struggling with psychological, emotional, family, or addictions issues is framed as personally or morally inferior. This results in exclusion, poor social support, lower self-esteem, and reduced likelihood of seeking help. I believe the presence of stigma says as much about the person holding the belief as the one experiencing the difficulty.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do you think that the stigma is changing?

PINE REST: Yes, the dissemination of good information is confronting myths and gradually reducing this stigma. In best-case scenarios, people are celebrated for having the courage to pursue help for substance abuse disorders.

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s the current trend in corporate HR Departments for developing EAPs in order to help address mental health issues?

PINE REST: Most employers do engage EAPs for their employees:

  • 89% of large employers (more than 500 employees)
  • 76% of mid-sized employers (100-499)
  • 52% of small employers (<100)

Some employers have internal EAPs in which the EAP counselors are employees of the company, but the vast majority contract with external EAPs.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the barriers corporation face when helping employees address mental health disorders?

PINE REST: A lack of mental health expertise within their management team. Stigma. A corporate culture that avoids or shames help-seeking. Cost. Productivity pressures. A lack of knowledge regarding available quality resources.

ADDICTION BLOG: What does an ideal EAP look like when addressing addiction?

PINE REST: When addressing addiction, an ideal EAP needs to be flexible enough to meet specific needs within a continuum of services. These can include:

  • Education
  • Developing a culture that supports help-seeking
  • Management training
  • Family support
  • Peer group programs
  • Coordinated access to a continuum of outpatient/residential/inpatient resources
  • Re-entry HR and management policies

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the benefits of having an EAP in a corporate environment? What are some of the limitations of such programs?



  1. A recent study noted an 8:1 ROI on the administration’s EAP investment. Other studies have found an ROI range from 5-10X the investment.
  2. Consultation for managers to deal with “human” issues outside of their training and expertise.
  3. Prompt access to treatment. Otherwise, accessing counseling (especially drug and alcohol) can be a slow, arduous process.
  4. An employer demonstration of caring during times when employees need it most fosters loyalty and engagement.


  1. Meaningful EAP utilization is only as good as a corporate culture that supports and promotes it.
  2. Some companies experience abysmal utilization.
  3. Free face-to-face counseling is limited by the number of sessions contracted.
  4. Employees who do not have behavioral health insurance benefits then must pay out of pocket for additional sessions.

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s the average cost of implementing an EAP for businesses?

PINE REST: Costs vary dependent upon the model and variables selected. Cost structures vary widely dependent upon the services purchased, but generally include some combination of Per Employee Per Year retainer plus Per Service ala carte elements.

ADDICTION BLOG: How does a business set up an EAP?

PINE REST: The EAP contracts with employers to provide an array of services to support the Human Resource objectives of that organization. These services recognize that a healthy, non-distracted employee is a more productive employee and typically include:

  • Telephonic and face-to-face assessment/counseling regarding addictions, behavioral health struggles such as depression or anxiety, family problems, and other life issues. There will be a cap on the number of free face-to-face counseling sessions.
  • Management consultation regarding employee challenges.
  • Elder Care Consultation to guide employees through the daunting task of caring for elderly loved ones.
  • Management and employee trainings.
  • Financial and Legal consultation.
  • Critical Incident Response for guidance and support following workplace tragedies
  • Proprietary web-based resources such as vetted articles, videos, assessments, and training modules on health, behavioral health, professional/family relationships plus financial calculators, legal forms, etc.

ADDICTION BLOG: Why do you think employers hesitate to create EAPs?

PINE REST: EAPs measure their efficacy based upon variables that are sometimes difficult to measure such as:

  • Work Productivity
  • Morale
  • Engagement
  • Emotional Wellbeing
  • Physical Wellbeing
  • Work-life Management

In the rush of a business day, employers tend to look first to hard costs and more easily defined bottom line benefits. It is easy to forget about the costs associated with an impaired employee or dysfunctional workgroup. Also, remember that part of the definition of addiction includes “characterized by denial”.

ADDICTION BLOG: How are employee’s privacy issues protected when seeking help for addiction through an EAP?

PINE REST: Covered employees are instructed that this free benefit is available to them on a confidential basis. They can access the service simply by noting their company’s EAP affiliation.

Reports back to the employer protect their privacy by documenting only overall utilization data and any themes that would inform Human Resources regarding the needs of their workforce.

ADDICTION BLOG: What’s your vision and goal for the development of EAPs in your local West Michigan community?

PINE REST: Pine Rest EAP recognizes the value of the person as both employee and human. We are honored by the trust granted by our customers to serve their most valuable resource. Our goal is to simultaneously deliver:

  1. Services specific to the needs of the customer. No “Out of the Box” general programs focused on serving us rather than the customer. Every customer is different so we need to be flexible.
  2. Clinical excellence. It is a tremendous responsibility to be there for people on the worst day of their lives. We use Pine Rest’s own 20 outpatient clinics, residential facilities, and inpatient hospital to ensure best practices quality.
  3. Meaningful utilization. In retained relationships many EAPs are profitable because of limited utilization. We want to partner well with HR to establish productive workforces via consultation, shared planning, and high utilization of our behavioral health and other services.
  4. Prompt responsiveness. We don’t want to add to people’s stress by making them wait.
  5. Compassion. These are people we’re talking about.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do the EAPs that you help design differ between corporate and faith based organizations? If so, how?


When helping any person or group you must be attentive, respectful, and responsive to their world view. Our programs do their best to be inclusive, but without apology integrates faith into service to those for whom it is important and wanted.

Pine Rest serves the employees of faith-based organizations through EAP services and also develops Church Assistance Program relationships in which it partners with clergy to add clinical expertise and bench strength to their ministry efforts to serve church members.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to add?

PINE REST: My Dutch immigrant grandfather’s business advice to me was “Ach, Junge. Do ta rrright ting and iss goot for business too.”

EAPs “do the right thing” to care for people and it positively impacts the bottom line.

To learn more about the EAP/CAP services go to www.pinerest.org/EAP or call Executive Director Bob VandePol at 616.258.7548.

About Pine Rest
Pine Rest, one of the five largest free-standing behavioral health providers in the U.S., has served the greater Grand Rapids and national community since 1910. It offers a full continuum of services including inpatient and partial hospitalization, residential and outpatient services, a continuum of addiction treatment and recovery services, extensive child and adolescent programs, senior care services, as well as specialized assessment and treatment clinics. In addition to the main campus in Grand Rapids, Pine Rest also has 18 outpatient locations throughout West Michigan and two in Iowa. You can learn more online at www.pinerest.org.
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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