Workplace Substance Abuse

When people think about drug addiction and substance abuse, they often picture the homeless person on the street corner 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. Workplace substance abuse can be expensive for companies, but worse than that, it can be dangerous for employees.

How Prevalent is Workplace Substance Abuse?

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. According to the latest statistics from the Occupational Safety and 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 work in a medium to large-sized company, someone you interact with regularly is struggling with substance abuse.

Substance abuse is a problem that does not just impair people physically; it also diminishes 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 figure should make it evident that it is not a problem that only affects that individual.

How Does Workplace Substance Abuse Affect the Business?

When workplace substance abuse is present, there are several ways that it 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: An employee 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 diminishing 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. An employee termination means that the company has to hire someone new and have them go through the introductory stages of job training.
  • Lower overall work performance: Often people who have a problem with addiction have a lowered overall work performance. Perhaps they are thinking about when they can use again; possibly 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 essential that people distance themselves from the notion that discussing substance abuse among co-workers 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 workplace 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. They also take frequent breaks and misuse equipment while showing resistance to authority. This employee demonstrates an inability to make decisions and shows a loss of concentration. Their 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 usual, 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 some different indicators with a person that did not previously demonstrate any of them, the chances are that a problem does exist.

What Benefits have Employers Seen?

Those companies that introduced drug-free workplace programs saw many 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 among employees and family members decreased, while the health status among these same groups has 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 About Workplace Substance Abuse?

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 person 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 co-worker’s job by bringing up workplace substance abuse. In fact, that is the primary reason that most people do not speak out. Not speaking up 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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