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What Can Be Done About Drug & Alcohol Use at Work?

Last Updated on December 16, 2019 by Inspire Malibu

Even as popular television shows, such as “Mad Men,” romanticize the days of a fully stocked bar in an office nook or closing a business deal over a three martini lunch, most employers these days have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drinking on the job. However, this doesn’t mean that drug or alcohol abuse in the workplace is a thing of the past.

Drugs and Alcohol at the Workplace

The surprising truth is that an estimated 3.1 percent of employed adults reported using illicit drugs before work at least once within the past year, according to Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace. Their data also notes that 1.7 percent of workers have worked while under the influence, and a staggering 9.2 percent have worked with a hangover in the past year.

The consequences of substance abuse in the workplace present problems for both companies and their employees. They can include:

  • Higher rates of on-the-job accidents and fatalities
  • More work missed due to absenteeism, tardiness or medical issues
  • Unfinished tasks and projects
  • Loss of efficiency
  • Low morale among employees
  • Higher turnover rates, and time lost while training new employees
  • Expense of workers-comp insurance

So why are more Americans using drugs or alcohol in the workplace than ever before? There’s not a simple answer. Some of the factors could include clinical issues like depression or anxiety disorders. Employees battling the stress of staying employed, or perhaps even being unsuited for their current job, can be vulnerable to substance abuse. Additionally, those with serious addiction issues find that it affects every aspect of their lives, both at home and work.

What are signs a co-worker or an employee might be abusing drugs or alcohol at work?

  • Regularly late to work, or missing work due to sickness
  • Frequent injuries or accidents
  • Carless work and poor decision making
  • Frequent bathroom breaks
  • Issues getting along with co-workers and bosses

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has shown Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to be an effective tool for dealing with drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace. Research has proven that addiction treatment for a troubled employee, taking advantage of an employer’s EAP, pays for itself. Healthcare costs are reduced. Productivity is increased as a person recovers from addiction.

Furthermore, EAP’s are a compassionate approach to the very widespread issue of addiction and dependence. They instill loyalty in employees and improve overall morale.

It’s important for employers and colleagues to approach anyone showing signs of dependence in a caring and calm manner.

They should strive to be:

  • Understanding – remember that addiction is a disease and not a choice
  • Sympathetic – everyone faces difficulties from time to time
  • Honest – identify some of the problems and consequences created by this behavior
  • Solution oriented – point out that there is help available, and if there’s an EAP in place, the company will also assist in their recovery

Alcoholism and dependence on drugs can affect any industry. Studies have shown, though, that there’s a higher prevalence of these problems in professions like construction, food service, installation and excavation work. While zero tolerance policies are not likely to go away any time soon, employers as well as employees are learning there is far more to be gained in lending a helping hand.


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