What is Addiction?
It is essential that employers understand addiction, the prevalence of substance abuse among working adults, and the costs related to substance abuse. Substance abuse is treatable, particularly when it is addressed as a chronic disease. Reducing employee substance abuse can help employers improve productivity, reduce workplace injuries, and decrease health care costs.
Unfortunately, a significant proportion of individuals with substance use disorders do not receive the care they need. Research shows that 47% of men and 41% of women in need of treatment for illicit drug abuse are not treated. The strongest argument for addressing substance abuse in the workplace is the opportunity to reduce the enormous costs—health, disability and liability—that companies face as a result of undiagnosed and untreated substance abuse. Treatment of substance abuse and addiction can be as successful as treatment of other chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. Some studies show that up to 70% of patients who are treated for substance dependence eventually recover.
Individuals who receive treatment for addiction have:
- Better long-term outcomes,
- Improved long-term health,
- Reduced relapse,
- Improved family, work and other relationships,
- Better work performance and fewer absences.
How does substance abuse affect the workplace?
Substance abuse is common, and the costs of substance abuse are high for employers. In addition to higher absenteeism and lower job productivity and performance, substance abuse also leads to greater health care expenses for injuries and illnesses. Furthermore, safety and other risks for employers can increase workers’ compensation and disability claims. It is essential that employers understand addiction, the prevalence of substance abuse among working adults, and the costs related to substance abuse. Substance abuse is treatable, particularly when it is addressed as a chronic disease. Reducing employee substance abuse can help employers improve productivity, reduce workplace injuries, and decrease health care costs.
According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- 68.9% of the estimated 22.4 million illicit drug users, ages 18 or older, are employed full or part time.
- 8.7% of full-time workers ages 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month,
- 8.6% used illicit drugs in the past month,
- 9.5% were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.
- Drug and alcohol problems cost the United States an estimated $276 Billion a year.
Since most adults who have problems with alcohol or drug use are in the workforce, employers incur a large share of the costs related to lost productivity and increased health care needs.
Substance abuse by employees results in:
- Higher health care expenses for injuries and illnesses;
- Higher rates of absenteeism;
- Reductions in job productivity and performance;
- More workers’ compensation and disability claims; and
- Safety and other risks for employers.
What is treatment?
It is important that addiction be treated as a chronic disorder rather than an acute disease. Treatment for addiction must be of sufficient duration and intensity to maximize the likelihood that the employee will remain abstinent following acute care. In general, better outcomes are typically associated with outpatient treatment lengths that are greater than 90 days. In fact, research shows that for either residential or outpatient treatment, lengths of less than 90 days are of little or no effectiveness. Persons with more severe or multiple problems may need a longer duration.
There is a range of treatment settings, including:
- Inpatient care,
- Residential treatment programs,
- Partial hospitalization programs,
- Intensive outpatient care,
- Outpatient care, and
- Community support programs, such as 12-step programs.
This continuum of care allows people to enter treatment at the setting most appropriate for the severity of their addiction and permits step-up or step-down adjustments as needed. The choice of setting should be based on treatment needs, patient preferences and clinical characteristics of the patient, but the least restrictive, most appropriate treatment setting provides the opportunity to maximize outcomes while controlling costs. Individuals with more severe substance abuse problems typically have better outcomes when they enroll in more intensive treatment programs. Those who are relatively stable and/or have less severe addictions may not need these higher-intensity programs.
How do you know if substance abuse is affecting your company?
- Do you have employees or colleagues who are habitually late for work, are increasingly absent or functioning at two-thirds of their capacity, and/or with impaired decision making?
- Do you notice poor team morale and staff relations, as well as damaged customer relations, centered around a particular person?
- Has your company had a sudden increase in accidents?
If your answer is “yes” to any of the above questions, your solution could be identifying and addressing substance abuse in the workplace.
Addressing health issues today is not merely a ‘virtuous circle’ but a hard economic factor with high stakes.
Employees with substance abuse issues often:
- Fail to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.
- Use substances in situations where it is physically hazardous (e.g.. driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use).
- Have recurrent substance-related legal or financial problems.
- Continue to use substances despite persistent social or interpersonal problems that are a result of the substance use.
What can you do for your employees?
Employers can address substance use and abuse in their employee population by:
- Implementing drug-free workplace and other written substance abuse policies,
- Offering health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling,
- Ensuring that health plans require physicians to screen all patients for substance use disorders. Primary care practitioners can play an important role in helping individuals with substance use disorders maintain abstinence and achieve other self-management goals,
- Educating employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance abuse through company wellness programs, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and Work/Life programs,
- Utilizing EAP services to help employees with substance abuse,
- Respecting employees’ privacy, and
- Reducing stigma in the workplace.