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Overcoming the Losses of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

It may be easy to dismiss drug problems and those who cope with them when you believe that drug use is confined to the streets. However, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that more than 70 percent of those using illicit drugs and/or alcohol are successfully employed. These individuals often do very well professionally. This doesn’t mean the situation is healthy for the professionals or for the workplace. In fact, the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information states that companies in the United States lose about $100 billion a year due to alcohol and drug-related activities.

The Costs of Workplace Substance Abuse

Substance- and alcohol-related injuries account for more than 10 percent of work injuries that show up at the emergency room, according to a national study on alcohol-related injuries at work. In addition to these injuries, workplaces are negatively impacted in other ways.

  •         Increased occurrences of aggravated assault
  •         Higher numbers of sexual battery charges
  •         Decreased job performance
  •         Employee difficulties in concentration and focus
  •         Increased risk-taking behaviors
  •         Sales of illicit drugs and other illegal activities

The costs of drug use by employees are impacted by risks to public safety, impaired job performance, and decreased safety for both the individuals using illicit drugs and alcohol and their coworkers.

Identifying Substance Abuse

Most professionals using drugs or alcohol inappropriately try to hide their behaviors, but it is possible to recognize signs of abuse. For example, coworkers using drugs may blame others for personal failings or avoid interacting with others. Coworkers using illicit drugs may share too much information about personal issues, such as financial problems and failing relationships. They often exhibit a general decline in their personal hygiene and overall appearance. The rate of missed work generally increases steadily.

Casual drinking and casual drug use, such as marijuana, contribute to workplace problems. One study found that upper managers and first-line supervisors were more likely to inhibit productivity after holidays and weekends than other workers. This is reportedly due to drinks or drug use during the workday. The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and involved researchers from Harvard and Boston University Schools of Health and seven Fortune 500 companies.

Preventing Substance Abuse

·       Identify

It’s important to acknowledge that workplace cultures affect problem-drinking and the use of drugs. Some of the factors that encourage substance abuse include a culture and acceptance of drinking or using drugs, alienation of workers, and a willingness to let substance abuse slide. When work is stressful or boring, the rate of employee drinking increases. Substance abuse has also been linked to lack of autonomy or control over work, sexual harassment, poor quality work conditions, and disrespectful behavior. Fortunately, there are many resources of employers regarding drug abuse in the workplace.

·       Recognize

Some industries are more likely to have high rates of illicit drug use and alcohol consumption than others. Some of the top industries where drug use in the workplace are more likely include accommodations and food services, entertainment, and construction. Increased education into the factors that positively and negatively impact drug and alcohol abuse is a significant tool toward reducing problematic behaviors.

·       Supervise

Increased supervision and low tolerance for inappropriate behaviors at work can reduce the potential for substance abuse in the workplace. When adequate supervision is in place, employees are less likely to drink or use at work. Several policies can be put in place to reduce drug use in the workplace.

  •         Consistent supervision
  •         Substance abuse education covering costs of and how to recognize abuse
  •         Random drug testing
  •         Substance abuse policies and enforcement of policies
  •         Availability of substance abuse treatment

Decreasing the availability of drugs and alcohol near and in the workplace is another positive way to decrease substance abuse.

Focus on Well-Being

With an eye on the well-being of individuals and the company, it is possible to decrease workplace substance abuse through education, identification, and action. With a willingness to share resources and provide treatment, employers could change or save the lives of their employees.

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