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ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE IN THE WORKPLACE

ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE IN THE WORKPLACE

Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace affects everyone—from the people who use the substances as well as other employees and employers to their customers and clients. The effects on companies and their hires add up, compromising workplace safety, productivity, work quality, and employee morale.

The issue is hardly new, but workplace drug abuse awareness has grown over the years, and with good reason.

Just recently, it was reported by Quest Diagnostics, a drug testing company, that the rate of positive drug test results has increased in the US workplace, and is at a 12-year high, as of 2016. The company’s analysis shows links the increases in marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine use.

The nation’s current opioid crisis affecting employers all over the US has only added to the conversation about substance abuse and the workplace.

Why Do Workers Use Substances?

More than 150 million people are part of the US workforce, according to the Pew Research Center, and most spend a considerable amount of time working. Many of them report working longer than the standard 40-hour workweek —at least by seven hours, according to Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey.

In addition to long hours and work responsibilities, people also may juggle other commitments that lead to overextending themselves. Having a drink to relax or grabbing a drink or two at an after-work happy hour is a common thing to do. However, people who use alcohol to wind down from a long, hectic day after work are on their way to developing unhealthy drinking habits if they don’t address what’s working and what’s not.

While the reasons employees use substances vary, stress, mental, emotional and physical health issues, and the inability to reason and solve problems are some of the most common ones. Substance abuse doesn’t just stop at the front door of an office or job site. Whatever a company’s employees are into on their off hours can affect what happens while they are on the clock. It is important that employers recognize and address the issue as it could have serious consequences if unchecked.

69% of an estimated 22.4 million illicit drug users in the US ages 18 and over are employed and active in the workplace, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

HOW SUBSTANCE ABUSE, ADDICTION AFFECT THE WORKPLACE

how addiction affects the workplace

While the decision to drink alcohol is personal and could be deemed an employee’s personal business, the challenge comes in when the abuse of alcohol interferes with the the employee’s ability to perform the duties of their job, particularly to the point where it cause an employer to have legitimate concerns. According to the United State Office of Personnel Management, a government agency, these concern include the proper performance of duties, health and safety issues, and employee conduct at the workplace.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who use substances are more likely to:

  • Come to work drunk, hung over, or in withdrawal
  • Change jobs frequently
  • Be frequently late to or absent from work
  • Be less productive (missing deadlines, incomplete projects) or nonproductive
  • Be involved in a workplace accident and potentially harm others
  • File a workers’ compensation or medical claim
  • Sleep or nap on the job
  • Steal on the job
  • Get into conflicts with coworkers, colleagues

People who engage in workplace drug abuse or abuse substances to the point where it is affecting their behavior at work are at greater risk of losing their job, which can further make things harder for them.

ALCOHOL AND THE WORKPLACE

alcohol and the workplace

Alcohol remains the most widely accessible and abused substance in the US. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, struggle with alcohol abuse or dependence. This number does not include the millions more who engage in binge drinking patterns that set the stage for alcohol problems.

Workplace costs of alcohol abuse reportedly have ranged from $33 billion to $68 billion, and many companies can count lost productivity, health care costs and other costs related to employee turnover due to employees among their alcohol problems.

OPIOID EPIDEMIC AFFECTS THE WORKPLACE, TOO

drugs and the workplace

While illicit drugs often come to mind when workplace drug abuse is the focus, it is increasingly important that prescription drugs are just as susceptible to misuse and abuse. It is estimated that more than half of the US population takes a prescription medication. Even with the risks widely known and well-documented, data suggests people are still taking opioids, medications that have been overprescribed, observers say.

A recent analysis by the National Safety Council found that of the US-based companies they surveyed, more than 70 percent reported that they have been affected by employees’ use of prescription drugs.

However, despite this, only 41 percent surveyed that they screen new workers for synthetic opioids.

“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employee's’ medicine cabinets,” said National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah AP Hersman in a recent news release.

She added, “Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job.”

IS THE WORKPLACE AFFECTING YOU?

substance abuse affecting workplace

Addiction’s multifaceted nature makes it difficult to find the underlying root of the issue, but it is possible to find factors correlated directly to it. If more than two of the following symptoms are recognizable in yourself or someone you know, it is possible you might be experiencing substance abuse that is affecting your work performance.

  • Thinking about drugs or alcohol while at work
  • Coming to work in withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • Constant mood swings while working
  • Degrading work performance
  • Conflict between co-workers
  • Constantly showing up late
  • Preparing substances before work for when you get home
SEEKING HELP FOR WORKPLACE DRUG ABUSE: EAPS AND MORE

addiction treatment for professionals

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help workers who are struggling with work-related issues, which may include substance abuse problems and addiction. These voluntary, supportive programs focus on the whole person and are typically offered as part of an employee benefit.

Free and confidential assessments, referrals, short-term counseling, and follow-up sessions are all offered under an EAP, says the United States Office of Personnel Management. Counselors with these programs also work with company managers to help address what the employee’s challenges and figure out the best strategy for moving forward that benefits the company and the employee. Workers who use EAPs also might be linked to resources in their area that offer them peer support and recovery groups they can join.

Treatment programs that address workplace drug abuse and addiction can help users in recovery take control of their futures. Keep in mind that these programs can be tailored to address any of the underlying issues that led to substance abuse and find ways to get on the path to recovery and maintain employment.

SEEKING ACCOMMODATIONS

accommodations for workplace addiction

Substance abuse issues that arise at in the workplace can be a challenging time for both the employer and employee. Seeking professional treatment for a drug or alcohol problem is an option, and some will seek it.

Employers and employees might want to stay up to date with the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

According to the United States Department of Labor, “Treatment for substance abuse may be a serious health condition if the conditions for inpatient care and/or continuing treatment are met.

“FMLA leave may only be taken for substance abuse treatment provided by a health care provider or by a provider of health care services on referral by a health care provider.”

It is important to note that FMLA does not protect substance abuse itself. Therefore, “Absence because of the employee's use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave,” writes the US Department of Labor.

FMLA regulations also state that an employer may not take action against an employee because the employee has exercised his or her right to take FMLA leave for substance abuse treatment.

“However, if the employer has an established policy, applied in a non-discriminatory manner, that has been communicated to all employees, and that provides under certain circumstances an employee may be terminated for substance abuse, then pursuant to that policy the employee may be terminated regardless of whether he or she is presently taking FMLA leave,” according to the department.

Employees who have problematic drug and/or alcohol use also may want to seek treatment at a private facility or a facility outside of the job, if that is a better fit than an EAP.

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