By: Recovery Unplugged
Little by little, substance use disorder (SUD) infiltrates every area of a sufferer’s life. One of the most immediate areas in which the impact of excessive drug and alcohol abuse can be felt is in the workplace. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that nearly 11 million full-time workers in the United States struggle with SUD.
Very often, these workers’ drug or alcohol issues are directly tied in with their professional lives; nearly 100 percent of the time, these substance use issues put users’ careers and financial wellness at risk, which leads to more hardship, trauma, and stress for which they may continue to self-medicate.
What Does Substance Use Disorder Cost Employers?
In addition to individual employees, workplace substance abuse has the potential to cripple productivity, derail an organization’s expansion and diminish its bottom line. The ripple effect of these issues, no matter the size of the company in question, can create serious long-term economic and employee-wellness issues.
Let’s start with the economic impact. The Office of the Surgeon General reports that substance misuse is estimated to cost society $442 billion each year. Employers absorb the bulk of these costs through healthcare expenditures, absenteeism and lost productivity.
The National Safety Council reports that Americans struggling with opioid addiction miss nearly 50 percent more work than the average employee. Additional data indicate that workers struggling with painkiller misuse cost employers three times as much in healthcare costs than other personnel. Opioids are among the most commonly abused drugs and killed over 49,000 Americans in 2017 according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Human Cost: Safety and Productivity of Staff
In addition to the immediate and hidden economic costs, workplace substance use disorder can very easily create a toxic corporate culture and puts other employees in immediate danger. The United States Department of Labor has reported that drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace causes 65 percent of on-the-job accidents and that 38 percent to 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to the abuse of alcohol or drugs in the workplace.
There are also everyday concerns with which colleagues of SUD sufferers have to contend, including having to absorb their extra work, missing important deadlines because of their absenteeism, inability to effectively communicate with them on important projects and much more. These everyday issues can lead to a serious decline in morale and a corresponding plummet in productivity. If this culture is allowed to persist, it will produce a resentful, bitter and purely financially driven workforce, which is directly antithetical to healthy organizational growth.
Dealing with Employee Substance Abuse
There are essentially three ways that an employer can address substance abuse in their ranks: ignoring it, firing the employee or helping them get back on their feet. Ignoring the problem has enormous and potentially catastrophic consequences while firing the employee can send a toxic signal to other employees and also create undue legal exposure.
Helping guide the employee toward treatment is a proactive, compassionate and ultimately cost-effective course of action that lets them know they are a valued part of the organization. Many employees routinely attempt to hide their addiction through direct fear of losing their jobs.
As a result, they pose a greater and greater risk to their colleagues and employers as time goes on until their issue is ultimately discovered. If they feel their jobs are secure, an employee may feel more inclined to seek treatment and get their lives together.
Recovery Unplugged. (2021). The impact of substance use disorder on professionals and their employers. Corporate Wellness Magazine. https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/the-impact-of-substance-use-disorder-on-professionals-and-their-employers
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