Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Drug and alcohol addiction and substance abuse, in general, is now a very serious and concerning problem in the United States.  With each passing year, prescription drugs and street drugs become more potent and more dangerous, making recovery more difficult.  Deaths from overdose are on the rise, substance abuse in the workplace is rising and there seems to be no end in sight.  Another shocking fact is that young people are getting hooked on drugs and alcohol at much younger ages than ever before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC):

The United States is faced with the single most concerning drug and alcohol addiction problem of the century.  Currently, substance abuse problems are on the level of being an actual epidemic.   More people are addicted to drugs and alcohol now than ever before, and more people die from their substance abuse problems than ever before.  Finally, substance abuse addiction issues and crisis issues have all come together to make for more problems in the nation in general thanks to addiction.  The addiction crisis costs over six-hundred billion dollars a year and creates endless sadness and problems in American families who have a loved one who is addicted to such substances.
With statements like this, it becomes sensible to really do something about the addiction problem.  Part of the responsibility for this falls upon American business owners and their families.  These are the individuals who need the help the most and that will benefit the most from such assistance and encouragement.  Employers have an elevated position that allows them to go out and make a difference. Having an addict and substance abuse in the workplace can be very dangerous and damaging.

Statistics on Substance Abuse in the Workplace: Why Employers Need to Crack Down

The issue with drug and alcohol addiction warrants a closer look and a more realistic solution to the problems.  These issues are likely to worsen as the years go by.

For example:

  • About 1.0 percent of people of the age of 12 or older, (about 2.7 million of them), who took prescription drugs had a prescription drug use disorder in the past year alone, including 2.0 million people with a pain reliever use disorder, 688,000 with a tranquilizer use disorder, 426,000 with a stimulant use disorder, and 154,000 with a sedative use disorder. What does this tell us?  These drugs that are supposed to be safe and helpful, but they are possibly addictive and deadly.
  • In the year of 2015, as part of their most recent substance use treatment for addiction, 822,000 people received treatment for the misuse of pain relievers, 293,000 people received treatment for tranquilizer misuse, 139,000 received treatment for stimulant misuse, and 116,000 received treatment for sedative misuse of one kind or another.
  • Sedatives are another big prescription drug that people are using.  Among past year sedative misuse, the most common reason was to help with sleep (71.7 percent). Even if people misused prescription drugs for conditions for which these drugs are typically prescribed (e.g., for pain relief or to help with sleep), use without one’s own prescription or using more often or at a higher dosage than prescribed nevertheless constitutes misuse.  This is exactly what leads to addiction too.

How Employers Can Make Abuse Policies Clear

If you are an employer and are responsible for your co-workers, then your first job is to make sure your company’s substance abuse in the workplace policies are crystal clear so that you do not newly hire anyone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. In your employment manuals, this should be explicitly stated so that it is obvious, and the consequences for violating these policies should also be outlined and understood. There are some mandatory stipulations per federal law, as covered by the Drug-Free Workplace Act, but other policies are up to your discretion for your own business.

But what if you find out that you already have someone working for you who are abusing drug and alcohol and who is engaging in substance abuse in general?  This is a more difficult situation.  In this case, you might end up needing to investigate the situation in more detail and find out exactly what the individual is doing.  You can search the workplace, you can put employees through drug tests, and you can converse with the person in question and perform a light intervention.  This is needed and wanted and is important.

You have a lot of tools and a lot of different rights that you can use to properly avoid substance abuse in the workplace and to keep the damage that addicts can cause out of your company or organization.  Don’t forget to stick to the rules that you set for your business as much as possible, and consider whether this is their first offense or not, and how to treat such individuals. Unpaid leave, benefit removal, basic write-ups, and termination are all possibilities here, so consider your options carefully.

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