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Substance Abuse and Work: Talking to Your Employees

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With the rise of drug and alcohol addiction in the U.S. today, employers may wonder whether any of their employees are stuck between substance abuse and work? According to the latest statistics from National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), more than 70 percent of drug abusers in America are employed. The most common illicit drugs abused at the workplace are marijuana, cocaine, and binge drinking. 


Substance Abuse and Work

A drug-free workplace is ideal, but we understand that substance abuse is pervasive; almost every employer may need to address substance abuse issues with employees eventually.

Many people that engage in drug and alcohol abuse might consider themselves “high functioning” drug users, this comes as a result of reaching personal and professional success despite substance abuse. However, “high functioning” does not mean healthy. Substance abuse and addiction cause damage to the users and the damage carries over to their careers also. 

Individuals who abuse drugs are not the only ones affected in the workplace. Coworkers report mental stress and an unspoken tension at work as well.


Why Reporting Substance Abuse at Work is Important?

Substance abuse and work do not mix, alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for businesses including low productivity, injuries, and increased health insurance claims. Reporting substance abuse at work is a critical aspect for any organization. 

According to the U.S. Drug Test Centers, supported by SAMSHA, of the $81 billion spent per year on substance abuse in the workplace, researchers estimate that it is spent primarily on:

  • Low Attendance 
  • Healthcare costs
  • Lost productivity
  • Lower morale of coworkers
  • Job performance
  • Mental health issues

substance abuse and work

Employee substance abuse has been connected to low job autonomy, lack of job complexity, lack of control over work conditions, boredom, fatigue, sexual harassment, verbal and physical aggression, and disrespectful conduct at the workplace.


Work-Related Problems Associated with Substance Abuse

Research shows that workplace accidents skyrocket when employees are under the influence of any prescription drugs or illegal drugs. Drinking at the workplace can also prompt issues like aggravated assault and sexual battery charges, which then require the involvement of law enforcement. Other side effects of drug addiction and abuse at work can include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms affect job performance
  • Reduced focus or concentration
  • Needless risk-taking that affects the company
  • Illegal sale of drugs to coworkers and other illicit activities

Most people with substance use disorder hide their drug addiction problems from employers and coworkers, but the signs of a problem often show themselves regardless. Someone abusing drugs at work might behave differently from their colleagues in crucial ways. The individual in question may stay away from colleagues and companions or irrationally blame them for their mistakes. Other indicators someone is abusing drugs in the workplace may include:

  • Openly talking about financial problems
  • Poor personal appearance or hygiene
  • Complaints of failing relationships with friends and family members
  • Excessive time off, especially after getting paid


Asking for help

Many businesses also enroll in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a national NCADD initiative. The EAP can point addiction sufferers and their loved ones toward community resources for emotional support and treatment. Twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can also provide accountability during recovery, so former users can get and stay clean.

substance abuse and work

Employed individuals might be reluctant to take time off from work for an inpatient treatment program. However, to effectively treat your addiction you may need to take some time off from your work. If your employer finds out that you were in a treatment facility, you may be required to sign a “Return to Work Agreement” before returning to your work environment. Here’s everything you need to understand about these agreements and your rights at the workplace as an employee. 


What is a Return to Work Agreement After Substance Abuse Treatment?

According to the Job Accommodation Network, a return-to-work agreement sets stipulations that an employee must follow to keep their job when they have violated a workplace policy that would ordinarily lead to termination. These agreements are often crafted for employees who have drug and alcohol addictions that have interfered with their work performance.

In most cases, substance use that interferes with work performance is seen as a temporary problem that can be addressed with treatment. To make the most of your RWA, you must engage in treatment and follow-up care after rehab. Once you complete rehab, it is important to involve yourself in aftercare programs, including support groups and individual counseling. 



If you are in California and are looking for a nearby rehab program, Pacific Sands Recovery Center is your best bet. We are a team of trained medical professionals who are here to help you with substance abuse treatment. If the whole process of confronting your employer and admitting your addiction problem to them, seems overwhelming, you can contact Pacific Sands Recovery and have a care coordinator guide you through the process. Give us a call today at  949-426-7962.

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