Apply These 3 Techniques to Address Addiction in the Workplace

Employee Substance Abuse: What Role Do Employers Play?

It’s easy to look at drug and alcohol addiction as something “other” people deal with. If you’ve never struggled with it — and it hasn’t been an issue in your social circles — then you probably associate addiction with poverty, unemployment, homelessness and poor life decisions.

But what if someone told you that 70 percent of Americans using illegal drugs are actually employed? Instead of viewing it as a societal problem, it becomes a challenge that you must confront. Are you prepared for that?

The Reality of Addiction in the Workplace

Research from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) shows that 70 percent of the estimated 14.8 million Americans using illegal drugs are employed.

If the high rate of substance addiction and abuse in the workplace shocks you, the side effects will surprise you even more. For example, did you know workers with drinking problems are 2.7-times more likely to have an injury-related absence than a worker who doesn’t abuse alcohol? Or what about the fact that 35 percent of emergency room patients with occupational injuries are at risk drinkers?

The rates and risks are even higher for drug addicts — and they have a hard time holding down steady jobs. The NCADD points out workers who report holding three or more jobs over a five-year period are twice as likely to be current or past illegal drug users than those who have held two or fewer jobs.

While you may still think addiction and abuse don’t happen in a business like yours, it would be foolish to take this stance. Millions of working class Americans — many in white-collar positions — are struggling with substance abuse issues. If you aren’t prepared, you may end up getting blindsided.

Recognizing Symptoms of Addiction

If you automatically assume drug addiction isn’t something your employees struggle with, then you probably aren’t looking for signs and symptoms. You need to shift your mindset and recognize this is a problem permeating every socioeconomic class, industry and job title.

Some symptoms of addiction are easier to spot than others, but here are a few of the most common ones employers see in the workplace:

  • Chronic attendance issues. Do you have an employee who always shows up late or consistently misses stretches of days at a time? This is one sign there may be something going on.
  • Poor performance. When chronic attendance issues are coupled with poor performance, this is an indication the employee’s mind isn’t on work. Any number of issues could be to blame, but addiction and abuse are possibilities.
  • Problems with behavior. Everyone has a bad day here and there, but if erratic and unexplained behavior issues become common, it may be worth exploring the possibility of an addiction problem.
  • Friction in workplace relationships. Healthy workplace relationships are integral to small business success. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often find it challenging to maintain healthy relationships with coworkers.

3 Tips for Dealing With Employee Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is incredibly sad on an individual level. It’s frustrating to watch people repeatedly make horrible decisions hurting themselves and others around them. But from the perspective of an employer, it’s just as hard to watch how their poor decisions negatively impact your business.

Between poor work performance, excessive absences and inconsistent hours, high job turnover, lack of productivity, and an increase in workers’ comp claims and healthcare benefits, employee addiction can hurt your business in some pretty significant ways.

The best thing you can do is take a proactive approach. In doing so, you can prevent substance abuse and addiction or at least address it when it becomes an issue. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Launch Programs

While it’ll certainly cost your business some capital, drug testing and educational programs yield a healthy return on investment for small businesses taking the time to implement them. According to, the proven benefits include things like increased morale, decreased workplace accidents, reduced employee theft, increased productivity, lower employee turnover and decreased cost of insurance and workers’ comp claims.

2. Avoid Enabling

You have to stop enabling employees who could be abusing drugs and alcohol. This means avoid lending money, covering up for an employee’s mistakes, making excuses or handing off work to someone else. These may seem like small things — especially when you don’t know that substance abuse is involved — but they further compound the problem.

3. Offer Support

Many addicts have problems in their personal lives and may not get the sort of social support they need. While your role as employer should always remain as professional as possible, you can help your employees by offering addiction recovery support and encouraging them to get treatment.

Addiction: It Hurts More Than the Bottom Line

As a business owner, you have two major responsibilities: increasing profitability and caring for your employees. There are times when these two objectives are in conflict with one another, and other times when they seem to work in tandem. Addiction falls into this latter category.

If your employees are dealing with substance abuse and addiction, it’s not just hurting your bottom line. It’s hurting the well-being of your employees and inflicting immeasurable pain on their families.

When you’re conscious of the fact addiction and abuse is rampant in the American workplace, you can take a more proactive approach and decrease the chances your business and employees will suffer through this terrible issue.

Photo via Shutterstock

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Larry Alton Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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