Substance Abuse and Addiction in the Workplace
When many people imagine what a person struggling with an addiction looks like, they may imagine someone who looks sickly, malnourished, or is exhibiting bizarre behavior. They may also imagine certain life circumstances, such as joblessness, financial problems, or homelessness. But the truth is addiction can affect people from all walks of life–it can affect rich and poor in the same way it can affect people from different backgrounds and cultures.
Addiction affects blue-and-white-collar workers at similar rates that it does the rest of the population. In fact, between 55 and 70% of all adults with a substance use disorder are employed and more than 10.8 million full-time workers have a substance use disorder.[1,2]
Some high-functioning alcoholics and addicts may be able to maintain their careers without their addiction being detected. Still, addiction is typically a progressive condition, and at one point or another, its effects of it are bound to seep into the workplace.
On-the-Job Stress and Substance Abuse
There are many factors that can contribute to substance abuse and addiction. Some of the biggest factors include mental illness and trauma. However, workplace stress can also encourage substance abuse and lead to addiction. For example:
- Employees who experience excess stress may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress
- Employees who are falling behind may feel pressured to increase their performance and turn to stimulant drugs to get more work done
- Employees who are trying to fit in with their coworkers may feel pressured to go out with their coworkers and socialize using alcohol
Some of the most widely used illicit drugs in the workplace include alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and opiates. Surveys have found that up to 22.5% of people admit to using drugs or alcohol during work hours. More men admit to using substances on-the-job than women.
How Substance Abuse and Addiction Can Impact the Workplace
Depending on the type of career, substance abuse on the job can lead to many problems. First and foremost, working physical labor while under the influence can result in accidents, injury, drug overdose, and death. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 388 workplace deaths in 2020 resulted from a drug overdose, and the number of fatal workplace overdoses has increased over the last eight years. Working any job while under the influence can also result in poor workplace performance and loss of productivity.
Other problems that may appear as a result of substance abuse and addiction in the workplace include:
- Frequent tardiness or calling out sick
- Falling asleep on the job
- Having a hangover or withdrawal symptoms can affect work performance
- Poor decision-making and impulse control
- Lack of concentration and focus
- Reduced efficiency on the job
- Preoccupation with substance use rather than one’s responsibilities
- Illegal activity such as bringing drugs to work or buying and selling drugs while at work/on the clock
- Increased turnover rate
- Lower morale of co-workers
- Conflict among employees or management
- Management being forced to turn to disciplinary procedures
Drug abuse and addiction can also affect companies financially. Between the loss of productivity, higher turnover, and more money spent training new employees, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimates that drug abuse costs employers and companies $81 billion annually.
Occupations Linked to Increased Rates of Substance Abuse and Addiction
Addiction can affect anyone no matter the job they have, however, some occupations are linked to higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than others. The occupations with the highest rates of substance abuse and addiction are:[4,5]
- Restaurant and hospitality workers – This industry has the highest rate of both monthly illicit drug use and substance use disorders. 19.1% of restaurant and hospitality workers have a substance use disorder and 16.9% engage in illicit drug use.
- Doctors and healthcare professionals – Workers in this industry face some of the most pressing, high-stress situations of any career. An estimated 10-14% of healthcare professionals have a substance use disorder.
- Arts and entertainment professionals – 14% of professionals in this industry abuse drugs on a regular basis and 11.5% abuse alcohol.
- Lawyers and other legal professionals – Legal professionals work demanding, high-stress jobs, and many lawyers struggle with alcohol use disorder. Nearly 1 in 5 lawyers have a drinking problem.
- Construction workers – Workers in this industry work physically stressful jobs and are at an increased risk of injury on the job. Construction workers often get prescribed opioids and get addicted to them or drink alcohol to unwind at the end of the day. Up to 15% of construction workers struggle with substance abuse and 16.5% abuse alcohol.
- Management – Managers and supervisors across all industries work stressful jobs and are under a lot of pressure. Between 11-12% of management professionals have a substance use disorder.
- Sales professionals – These professionals work in fast-paced environments where they are under a lot of pressure. Retail workers, real-estate professionals, and rental and leasing agents all exhibit high rates of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Police officers, firefighters, and first responders – Emergency services workers have a lot of responsibilities such as protecting the public and fighting crime. The immense stress and trauma these professionals experience place them at an increased risk of substance abuse and addiction. 20-30% of police officers abuse substances and up to 60% of firefighters engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking.
Signs of Workplace Substance Abuse and Addiction
Workplace professionals may work extra hard to conceal their drug use from their coworkers or employees, however, there are some tell-tale signs that may indicate a substance abuse problem. For example, someone struggling with addiction may:
- Call out of work sick more often than other workers
- Be late to work regularly or give many excuses in regard to their absences
- Have more money problems than their coworkers at similar pay rates
- Have a decline in personal appearance and hygiene
- Experience relationship problems at home
- Smell like alcohol or marijuana
- Exhibit odd behaviors such as twitching, talking quickly, or nodding off at one’s desk
- Experience mood swings or changes in energy levels
If an employee is struggling with addiction, they may qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA allows qualifying employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical reasons, including for substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Workplace Substance Abuse Prevention
Workplaces can take certain steps to avoid drug abuse and addiction in the workplace. While larger businesses typically have policies in place that include pre-employment drug testing, a substance abuse policy, and employee assistance programs (EAPs), employers can take additional steps to promote a sober, healthy workplace.
Preventative steps include:
- Mandate regular, random drug testing
- Offer substance abuse educational programs
- Organize fun or team-building activities that encourage increased morale
- Take steps to make the workplace safe and prevent workplace accidents
- Host events for coworkers that don’t involve alcohol
- Educate staff members about any available employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Celebrate a drug awareness day
- Enforce drug-and-alcohol policies
Find Help for Yourself or an Addicted Loved One
Professional treatment can enable individuals to get sober, return to work, and increase their workplace performance. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Arise Treatment Center’s luxury rehab program for professionals is uniquely designed to treat the needs of workplace professionals. Please contact us today at Arise Treatment Center to learn about your treatment options or find a California rehab center near you.