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Dealing With an Employees Drug Addiction

The cost of substance abuse in the workplace is devastating to both small and large businesses. For example, if an employee drinks heavily, uses illicit drugs or abuses prescription medications is more likely to be injured or to make mistakes on the job. He or she is also more likely to miss work and have conflicts with supervisors and/or coworkers.While it is important that each employer has a drug-free workplace, an employer must also have a compassionate attitude toward those who abuse drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is like any other disease. It can strike anyone at any socioeconomic level—even the most dedicated and accomplished workers. Rather than taking a punitive approach toward substance abuse, employers may find more benefits in giving their workers the opportunity to seek treatment.

Why Substance Abuse Treatment Is Important

Drug and alcohol use in the workplace may be more widespread than you think. Here are some statistics about the prevalence and consequences of substance abuse:

  • 9 percent of all adult illegal drug users are employed full or part time, as are most binge and heavy alcohol users.[1]
  • From 2008 to 2012 statistics show that an annual average of 8.7 percent of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month.
  • 5 percent were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.
  • The rate of past month illicit drug use among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 is 8.6 percent.[2]
  • In industries where the risk of injury is highest (manufacturing, construction and mining), the rate of substance abuse is also highest.

Substance abuse can occur in businesses of any size, but it may be especially harmful to small businesses, which may not have the resources to develop or enforce drug-free workplace policies. Employees who have an untreated drug or alcohol problem may be more likely to seek jobs at small companies where drug-screening policies aren’t in place.

The losses associated with employee drug abuse can include not only missed hours and higher worker’s compensation costs but also higher insurance rates and damage to your company’s reputation in the industry.

Employees who are using drugs on a regular basis are more likely to steal from their employers, lie or transfer the blame for their mistakes onto other workers. Giving your employees the opportunity to go through a comprehensive rehab program — possibly for the first time — will ultimately save your business money. It may also save an employee’s life.

Establishing a Drug-Free Workplace

Companies that do business with the federal government must follow the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. However, you don’t have to be a government contractor to establish a drug-free policy at your company.Any company can use the Department of Labor’s guidelines to discourage substance abuse and promote rehabilitation through a policy that does the following:

  • Educates employees about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse
  • Makes employees aware of counseling and rehab services that are available
  • Provides access to health insurance and substance abuse treatment
  • Makes employees aware of the consequences of substance abuse in the workplace

Help for Employees

The creation of a drug-free workplace isn’t just about random drug testing or having penalties for employees who use drugs. Employers should understand that a substance use disorder is a health condition. This is a condition that can be addressed with treatment, just like any other health issue.

Employers can help their workers gain access to affordable recovery services in several ways:

  • Provide a group health insurance plan that includes coverage for substance abuse treatment or counseling
  • Give employees who abuse drugs the option to seek treatment confidentially without fear of repercussions
  • Approach employees who may be abusing drugs in a positive, non-confrontational way
  • Encourage employees who are under stress at work or home to find healthy ways to manage emotional tension

Help employees pay for the costs of substance abuse treatment is vitally important to the success of a drug-free workplace policy. Employees who have access to health insurance or Employee Assistance Programs are more likely to get treatment than those who have to pay out of pocket.

The costs of employee drug rehab can be covered by private insurance at most outpatient or inpatient facilities in the US. The National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS) reported that in 2008, 65 percent of drug rehab facilities accepted health insurance as payment for services. Employers who provide a way for their workers to get help may pay higher insurance premiums up front, but the long-term gains of keeping employees healthy will pay off over time.

How To Identify Employees Who Need Help

It’s not always as easy to identify employees who have a substance use disorder.

While some alcoholic workers may take a two-hour “liquid lunch” or a heroin addict may nod off at his desk, many employees who abuse drugs are high-functioning workers. An employee may never use drugs or alcohol at work. However, she may call in sick frequently or display agitated, aggressive or unfocused behavior on the job.

There are various other ways employers can identify signs of substance abuse other than missing work and being intoxicated on the job.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Poor hygiene
  • More time is needed to do familiar tasks
  • Increase in poor decisions and/or bad judgment
  • Failure to meet deadlines or show up for appointments
  • Sudden displays of forgetfulness or confusion

Employers should keep in mind that some of the signs of substance abuse may indicate that an employee has depression, anxiety or another health concern. For an employer to get to the heart of an employee’s issue requires sensitivity, empathy and careful judgment.[3]

How to Support Your Employees in Recovery

It can be difficult to seek drug rehab for your employees. Employers may be called upon to take part in an intervention with family members and counselors if an addict refuses to get help.

Denial is a hallmark of drug addiction and alcoholism. It may take months or years for a person with a substance abuse problem to admit that they’re chemically dependent.

Employees who do seek help should be encouraged to use their benefits confidentially and without penalties. Employers must also be firm as well as supportive. Your personnel should be held accountable if they don’t seek treatment or continue to use drugs and alcohol. Employees should understand that if they refuse to seek treatment they will face serious consequences.

For an employer to support an employee in recovery,it is important to follow up with them after they graduate from rehab. An employee who has just completed an addiction treatment program may need to be transferred to a less stressful position. He or she may need to be reassigned to a different position. After rehab, an employee may need to use paid or unpaid leave to attend outpatient counseling sessions and group meetings.

Education is the first step in helping your staff stay drug-free. Make it clear to your personnel that resources are available if they need help dealing with substance abuse.

The Canyon offers holistic addiction treatment to help our clients recover from drug and alcohol addiction. Whether your employee needs an intensive inpatient program or outpatient therapy, we provide the services he or she needs to build a sober life.Call us now for more information.


[1] Drug Testing.


[3] Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Drug Addiction. Batiste, Lynda.