Categories: Drug Addiction

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

When people think about drug addiction and substance abuse, they often picture the homeless person in the street or the recently unemployed professional who is using illicit substances to overcome personal issues. However, addiction is a problem that can rear its head in the workplace as well. When looking at the recent statistics, people struggling with addiction are not only more likely to be employed, but also cost his or her employer a great deal of money.

How Prevalent is this Problem?

The majority of people that struggle with addiction have a job and are active in the workplace. The estimates place the number of people who are addicted and employed at approximately 74.8 percent. This would mean that according to the latest statistics from The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), as many as 12.9 million Americans are actively using illicit substances in the workplace today. With a number that large, there is a good chance that if you or someone close to you works in a medium to large-sized company, someone he or she interacts with regularly is struggling with substance abuse.

This is a problem that does not just impair people physically, it also impairs decision-making abilities. Between 10 and 20 percent of American workers who die on the job will test positive for alcohol or drug use. This should make it obvious that it is not a problem that only affects that individual.

How Does this Affect the Business?

When an employee struggles with drug addiction, there are several ways that this negatively affects the company. The most obvious is that the person causes dangerous or deadly accidents while under the influence of the substance or while recovering from its effects. Some of the other important factors are:

  • These employees cost more – Someone struggling with substance abuse issues is far more likely to file for benefits or workers’ compensation claims.
  • Lowered productivity – When employees struggle with productivity because of continued drug or alcohol use, it is lowering the overall cost-effectiveness of the business. Because many users also arrive late to the workplace or call-in sick, it also reduces overall productivity.
  • Frequently change workplaces – When someone is high or recovering from using, it often means that they miss work or do not show up at all, or steal from work to support their habit. As a result, businesses are far more likely to terminate these employees. This means that the company has to hire someone new and have them go through the introductory stages all over again.
  • Lower overall work performance – Oftentimes people who have a problem with addiction have a lowered overall work performance. Perhaps they are thinking about when they can use again, perhaps their motor skills are still weakened because of recent drug use. Whatever the reason might be, they are not as capable of doing the job.

Recognizing the Problem

It is important that people distance themselves from the notion that discussing substance abuse among coworkers is somehow ‘tattling’. While it does save the company valuable resources, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it might provide employees with a reason to seek out professional recovery treatment. Without a specific catalyst, many users continue to abuse illicit substances until they lose their job or have to confront their problem in some other way. Some of the warning signs of addiction or substance abuse may include the following:

  • Changes in mood – The employee may seem suspicious of others, more depressed, or appear very irritable. The person may also be excessively talkative or withdrawn after breaks or lunch.
  • Changes in appearance – There is a decline in professional attire, he or she has an unsteady stance, hand tremors, excessive and rapid weight gain or loss, poor hygiene, slurred speech or bloodshot eyes.
  • Changes in work performance – The person takes an increasing number of sick days or has unexplained absences, the person takes frequent breaks, there is misuse of equipment, shows a resistance to authority, demonstrates an inability to make decisions, shows a loss of concentration, the quality of work is becoming progressively worse and the person is far less productive than before.
  • Changes in interpersonal relationships – The person may refer to problems at home, act accusatory towards others, become far more argumentative than normal, appear overconfident, uncooperative or show poor listening skills.

Remember, it could also be possible that a number of these symptoms have other origins other than drug abuse. Some of them may have to do with the personality of that particular person, perhaps they are unable to get enough sleep, are under a great deal of stress or are struggling with a physical illness or allergic reaction. However, if you see a number of different indicators with a person that did not previously demonstrate any of them, chances are that a problem does exist.

What Benefits have Employers Seen?

Those companies that introduced drug-free workplace programs saw a number of different benefits that became apparent almost right away. Some of the most important findings are:

  • Better productivity – Those employers who implemented successful drug-free workplace programs report decreases in theft, turnover, downtime, accidents and absenteeism, while reporting improvements in productivity and employee morale.
  • Better health – The employers who have longstanding programs report that the use of medical benefits amongst employees and family members decreased, while the health status among these same groups have improved.
  • Incentives – Some companies that have a drug-free workplace program may qualify for specific incentives. Examples of incentives may be lowered costs for different types of insurance or decreased costs for workers’ compensation.

What Can You Do?

If you believe that someone you work with or you interact with has a problem, it is important to notify your supervisor as quickly as possible. This might be a human resource officer, member of the security team or a manager. You should be able to do this outside of work or privately, if that is more comfortable.

Again, many people feel as though they are possibly risking their coworker’s job. In fact, that is the primary reason that most people do not speak out. This might turn out to be a deadly mistake later on. Not only are you contributing to the likelihood that an accident will occur by not telling someone, but you are also not assisting that person in getting the help he or she needs.

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