The Problem of Substance Abuse in the Workplace
Substance abuse in the workplace is like an open secret in America, and it’s costing US employers billions and billions of dollars each year. It’s the small and medium businesses (SMBs) that are really affected because they don’t have alcohol and drug intervention programs in place. This is significant since SMBs make up more than 98% of the total businesses in the United States, employing more than 59 million workers. Addressing and preventing substance abuse in the workplace is becoming more talked about as mental health and addiction is becoming more socially accepted.
Professions with High Prevalence of Substance Abuse
In terms of industries, those that demand long hours from their employees historically have a higher rate of substance abuse.
The National Safety Council listed several occupations with a high prevalence of alcohol abuse. These are:
- Armed forces
- Emergency sector
- Retail services
It’s not to say that other industries are safe, of course. But the long hours and the pressure to perform are additional stressors that push the individual to alcohol or drugs in order to cope.
Reasons Why Employees Resort to Substance Abuse
There are plenty of reasons for substance abuse in the workplace. Before anything else, it should be noted that in most cases, it’s not the office environment that’s to blame. There’s a strong correlation between traumatic experiences and substance use, and this has nothing to do with your organizational policies.
Nevertheless, the office environment does contribute to substance drug abuse. Here are some of the reasons why your employees may take drugs or alcohol:
- Too much stress to perform
- The office is too demanding of their time
- They always find themselves out of control
- The job offers very little satisfaction and motivation
- Their job requires isolation from their colleagues
- Long hours
- Erratic shifts
- Nobody is monitoring their progress
- Personal issues
Signs that Your Employees have a Substance Abuse Problem
The employer now has the responsibility to make sure the office is a drug-free environment. But how do you know that one of your employees is abusing drugs or alcohol? Although it’s not really black and white because there are multiple factors to consider, there are some signs to look for that will tell you that it’s time for that random drug test.
- The employee’s job performance suddenly turns for the worse and without warning
- The quality of work is consistently poor
- The employee is always distracted and lacks the focus to do the job
- The employee seems to want to be somewhere else
- The employee suddenly disappears and makes excuses for the disappearance
- The employee takes more risks than usual, even at the expense of his life or limb
- The productivity suffers
- The employee is hyper while others already feel the effects of long work shifts
- The employee doesn’t care about his safety and also of others
- The employee is always absent
- The lunch period is always extended
- The employee also goes home even before the shift ends
- The employee makes constant mistakes
- He or she always isolates himself from colleagues
- There’s a change in behavior and attitude
- He or she is always asking to borrow money from colleagues
- Engages in finger-pointing even when he’s at fault
- Lashes at colleagues for insignificant reasons
- You notice that the employee’s hygiene has deteriorated
- The employee is always talking about problems at home
What Can You Do if You Have an Alcohol and Drug Addicted Employee?
At the outset, organizations need to have their own substance abuse policy because this is a reality that will confront them later down the road. As already stated, a drug dependent worker will have large repercussions on your operations and bottom line.
You should know that most substance abusers are in denial about the extent of their addiction. In that sense, they will be reluctant to accept your help.
However, if you find out that you have an alcohol and drug addicted employee, there are still several options for you:
- Give the employee an option—either go to rehab through the company’s EAP or face termination. It should be noted, however, that the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects addicted patients on recovery so better consult a lawyer.
- Get it out in the open. The more people know about drug addiction, the more the stigma is reduced. When everybody knows that they won’t be judged for their action, they are more likely to open up.
- Train supervisors and HR on how to spot signs of addiction. Better yet, include all employees in the training so they are empowered.
- Don’t ignore the problem. This seems obvious but you might be surprised by the number of supervisors and employers who continue to ignore the substance abuse issue even if it slapped them on the face.
Role of Supervisors and Co-Workers in Ensuring Drug-Free Workplace
In order to ensure a drug-free workplace, everybody has to play a role. The office just can’t wash its hands when one of its employees tests positive for substance use. The good thing is that more and more workplaces in the United States recognized the role they play in light of the continued prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse across different industries. In fact, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have become a staple in the list of benefits offered by different organizations. If your company does not have an EAP, rehabs like Monarch Shores in California and many others work with most insurance companies across the country.
Meanwhile, it’s important that companies should adopt a judgment-free environment. Yes, an employee testing positive for drug use will face sanction but there needs to be a safety net so they know that you don’t hate the person but rather the action. You might think that this is an unnecessary expense, and you are wrong. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. reported that employers lose about $81 billion every year on account of drug use. It’s not just the productivity you should be worried about. It’s also the constant absenteeism, theft, injuries, workers’ compensation costs, and insurance costs.
Preventing Substance Abuse
Employers should strive to creative a work environment that is non-conducive to substance abuse. This can be done by implementing workshops that discuss ways to handle workplace stress through holistic therapies such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, etc. You can also find other fun things to do as a group to build a sense of team and belonging, nobody wants to work at a place that is quiet and not talkative. Find events or other fun things to do as a team like bowling, lunch, movies, etc. You can also do things in the office to break up the monotony of the daily grind.
Lastly, it is important to know that substance abuse is a problem, but usually the drugs or alcohol are used to address a deeper mental health issue, this is commonly known as dual diagnosis. . Make sure that your employees know there are resources available for them to use if they are having issues with stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue. As HR and other leaders of a company it is important that your employees know they can come to you about issues at work, issues at home, substance abuse issues or mental health problems, without the fear of being judged or even fired. Let them know that you are on the same team and will do whatever you can to help.