A Harsh Reality: Addiction in the Workplace

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addiction
Close-up of female hand holding glass of water. Overworked worker taking medication on workplace. Soothing pills on table. Health care and medicine concept

Now that many Americans are beginning to return to their offices after working from home during the pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge the public health crisis surrounding addiction and substance abuse. 

Drug and alcohol misuse rose across the country during the pandemic, and now many are left dealing with the consequences as they return to their workplace and a more normal daily routine. The impact of COVID-19 on psychological symptoms and disorders, addiction and health behavior has been substantial. This ongoing effect will negatively impact people’s mental health and put them at greater risk for chronic illness and drug addiction.

Contrary to popular belief, most Americans struggling with a substance use disorder continue to hold a job. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), more than 70% of those abusing illicit drugs in America are employed. Some people who can maintain personal and professional success despite substance abuse or alcohol addiction may be considered “high-functioning.” Functioning, however, does not mean healthy, and it is imperative that companies do not ignore the realities and repercussions of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace.

When unaddressed, alcohol and substance use disorders in the workplace are costly and dangerous for organizations, as well as individuals, as it can lead to lowered productivity, physical injuries and even fatalities. While employers’ number one concern should be for their employees’ health and well-being, it is also important for them to consider how addiction impacts the organization financially. The U.S. Drug Test Centers, which is supported by SAMHSA, report that drug abuse and addiction cost American companies $81 billion every year. Researchers estimate that the money is spent on absenteeism, health care costs and reduced productivity. In addition to the negative impacts on the health of individual employees and the organization’s financial costs, substance abuse can affect the company culture, lower morale and decrease motivation, engagement and trust.

So, how can employers take care of employees with substance use disorders and create a safe, drug-free environment?

Reduce the stigma:

Employers and employees should take the time to properly educate themselves about these illnesses to reduce the stigma and prompt societal change. Introduce an awareness program focused on substance use that includes education on appropriate and recommended ways to work with employees and family members who may be struggling with a substance use disorder. Additionally, to increase awareness in the workplace, employers should set clear drug-free policies as well as educate all employees on identifying the signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug use and the necessary steps to take when one suspects that a coworker may need help.

Know the signs:

Most people suffering from addiction will hide their drug use from employers and coworkers, making it difficult to identify the problem — especially while working from home. However, for those returning to the office, there are some signs that you can look out for. A few indicators of someone abusing drugs in the workplace may include: avoiding coworkers or irrationally blaming them for a mistake he or she made, openly talking about money problems, a decline in personal appearance or hygiene, complaints of failing relationships at home and taking time off for vague illnesses or family problems. 

Screening:

Develop an employee drug testing program. Many organizations require pre-employment drug screenings for all new hires, especially in high-risk industries such as mining, construction and public safety. Many businesses also enroll in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a national initiative of the NCADD. The EAP can point addiction sufferers and their loved ones toward community resources for emotional support and treatment. It is important to note that organizational involvement should not be about punishing employee misconduct; rather, it should focus more on finding effective ways to provide education and resources for employees and supporting them in seeking recovery.

Accessible treatment:

While some may require inpatient treatment, there are many options for employed adults who are battling a drug or alcohol addiction. Many facilities offer various treatment programs and can provide each patient with an assessment outlining their best options. For example, Luna Recovery Services, a premier addiction treatment center located in Houston, offers a few different programs, including intensive outpatient programs which can help professionals recover without taking time off from work and a residential treatment program located in a comfortable home, not a hospital, for those who need more than an outpatient setting. They also offer a partial hospitalization program for those who need a high level of accountability and assistance, as well as recovery coaching, which keeps individuals connected to the recovery community through continuous support and accountability. Additional options include twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which can also provide accountability during recovery, encouraging former users to stay clean. No matter which treatment method you choose, getting well again is possible with proper assistance.

As more people continue to battle addiction and substance use disorders, it is more important than ever for employers to focus on increasing awareness and education in the workplace as well as supporting employees throughout their recovery journeys. 


About the author: Robert Park is the Founder and CEO of Luna Recovery Services as well as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. He has over 20 years of experience in the recovery treatment industry.

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