ADDICTION IN THE WORKPLACE

Addiction is a Serious Workplace Issue

More than 70% of individuals with alcohol or illicit drug use disorders continue to maintain employment. Substance abuse can lead to losses in productivity, high turnover rates, workplace theft, absenteeism, increased utilization of sick time and decreased quality of work. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
just over 10% of full-time employees and 11% of part-time workers, or 
approximately 14 million workers, are substance-dependent.

Illustration: Number of Workers Struggling with Behavioral Health Issues

Center for Workplace Mental Health. “Substance Use Disorder Calculator.” American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Accessed December 18, 2019.

How Prevalent is Addiction in Your Industry?

* The full title of this category is “Management of companies and enterprises, administration, support, waste management, and remediation services.
Bush, D. M., & Lipari, R. N. (2015, April 16). SUBSTANCE USE AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER BY INDUSTRY. Accessed on January 17, 2020.

The George Washington University Medical Center created a substance use disorder calculator to help you estimate the potential impact of substance abuse on your workforce. By adding a few details like industry, company size and geographic location, the calculator will estimate the number of individuals who are likely struggling.

Taking the average of all locations and industries, it estimates that for a company with 10,000 employees:

are abusing alcohol
are using illicit drugs

“Substance abusers do not have to indulge on the job to have a negative impact on the workplace.”

Employing and Managing People with Addictions.” Society for Human Resource Management. Accessed January 20, 2020

The Cost of Addiction

According to a 2016 Surgeon General report, substance misuse and substance use disorders have serious financial consequences, costing more than $400 billion annually in health care expenses, law enforcement, and other criminal justice costs and lost productivity.

The Impact on Productivity

Substance abuse and addiction affects workplace productivity in multiple ways. It can contribute to absenteeism, employee turnover and even workplace accidents. All of these factors can be a drain on your overall productivity.

  • Productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost companies $1,685 per employee according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Employees who use alcohol or illicit drugs are 3.5 times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and are more likely to file workers compensation claims.
  • 78% of employees miss work due to mental health concerns.
  • A Deloitte study found that companies implementing major mental health preventative programs were paid back 162% return on their investment over 3 years and 218% for programs lasting over 3 years.
  • Mental health-related “presenteeism” may cost employers as much as 3x that of actual absences—and more employees are feeling pressured to show up to work no matter what due to factors like perceived job insecurity.
  • Turnover costs in general range from an estimated 90%-200% of the departing employee’s salary, according to a 2019 Mercer survey.

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Bottom Line

It’s estimated that alcohol alone costs companies 500 million lost workdays each year. Habitual or excessive use of alcohol increases the chances the employee will be less productive on the job, due to delivering lower work quality, taking more or longer breaks, leaving early or even sleeping on the job. These employees are also more likely to call in sick or arrive late.

Additionally, absenteeism is estimated to be 4-8 times greater among those with an alcohol use disorder. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that accidents and on-the-job injuries are also more prevalent with those who misuse alcohol.

The Opioid Crisis at Work

The opioid epidemic has captured the national attention and has far-reaching effects, including in the workplace. Opioids carry a strong potential for impairment, which creates other safety hazards, as well as dependence, addiction and overdose. Opioid-related problems can become a significant risk and expense to companies through productivity losses, increased absenteeism, employee turnover, higher health care costs and increased risk of workplace injury or violence.

According to the New York Times, workplace insurers spend approximately $1.4 billion annually on opioid medications. There’s also evidence that if these medications are used too early in treatment, too frequently or for too long, they delay the employee’s return to work and drive up both disability payments and medical expenses.

What You Can Do

Your team is the foundation of your business. Keeping your staff mentally and physically healthy does more than just empower the individual employee. Being prepared to effectively handle employee behavioral and mental health care puts your organization in a position to:

Increase Productivity

Increase Workplace Safety

Better Serve Client Needs

Investing in behavioral health and employee treatment works... and it’s cost-effective.

  • Companies that implement alcohol use screenings and intervention methods have led to positive ROI based on employee-reported reductions in alcohol use, lowered health care costs and health insurance expenses, and better retention rates/less turnover.
  • Harvard Medical School reports that investing in employee treatment yields high returns, with an estimated gain of 23% among employees with an income of $45,000 per year or an estimated gain of 64% for employees earning $60,000 per year.
  • Over 80% of employees treated for mental illness reported improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.
  • A Deloitte study reviewing seven major Canadian companies that implemented mental health preventative programs found that the median ROI every CA$1 spent was CA$1.62 after three years. The returns rose to CA$2.18 if the programs continued longer than three years.

These results show that employers have an opportunity to make an impact in their employees’ lives and to the company’s bottom line by prioritizing an investment in areas like leadership training and preventive policies and benefits.

Addiction is a medical condition that most U.S. insurance plans cover. A good place to start is understanding the coverage for your employees and other available resources. There may be a gap in the level of service you believe you’re providing to your employees and the reality of what’s available to them.

Meier, Barry. “Pain Pills Add Cost and Delays to Job Injuries.” The New York Times, June 2, 2012. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Office of the Surgeon General. “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, November 2106. Accessed December 18, 2019.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management. “Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors.” Accessed December 18, 2019.

Babcock, Pamela. “Former Drug Czar: Drugs in Workplace Understated Crisis.” Society for Human Resource Management, November 13, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Center for Workplace Mental Health. “Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business.” American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Kuhl, Emily. “Alcohol Use Disorders.” Center for Workplace Mental Health, November 2016. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Bolden, Barrett, Valerie. “Career development, meaningful work are key drivers of employee value proposition.” HR Dive, November 12, 2018. Accessed December 18, 2019.

CDC Foundation. “Worker Illness And Injury Costs U.S. Employers $225.8 Billion Annually.” January 28, 2015. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Kelly, John. “Working on addiction in the workplace.” Harvard Health Publishing, June 30, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Grossman, Robert. “What to Do About Substance Abuse.” Society for Human Resource Management, November 1, 2010. Accessed December 20, 2019.

Chapman, Sarah; Maxwell, Laura; Kangasniemi, Ariel and Sereneo, Marie. “The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business.” Deloitte, November 4, 2019. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Howatt, Bill; Bradley, Louise; Adams, Jesse; Mahajan, Sapna; Kennedy, Samuel. “Understanding mental health, mental illness, and their impacts in the workplace.” Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2019.

Gust, Steven; Crouch, Dennis; Walsh, Michael Walsh. “Research on Drugs and the Workplace.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1991. Accessed December 18, 2019.

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