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Substance Abuse in the Workplace

A Dangerous and Expensive Problem


Updated June 10, 2014

Alcohol and drug abuse by employees cause many expensive problems for business and industry ranging from lost productivity, injuries, and an increase the health insurance claims.

The loss to companies in the United States due to alcohol and drug-related abuse by employees totals $100 billion a year, according to the The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, while in Canada The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission has estimated the annual cost of workers absent or tardy due to substance abuse to be approximately $400 million just in Alberta alone.

These staggering numbers do not include the cost of diverting company resources, that could be used for other purposes, toward addressing substance abuse issues. Nor does it include the "pain and suffering" aspects, which cannot be measured in economic terms.

Measuring the Costs

However, costs to businesses can be measured in the expense of absenteeism, injuries, health insurance claims, loss of productivity, employee morale, theft and fatalities. According to NCADI statistics alcohol and drug users:

  • Are far less productive.
  • Use three times as many sick days.
  • Are more likely to injure themselves or someone else.
  • Are five times more likely to file worker's compensation claims.

One survey found that nine percent of heavy drinkers and 10 percent of drug users had missed work because of a hangover, six percent had gone to work high or drunk in the past year, and 11 percent of heavy drinkers and 18 percent of drug users had skipped work in the past month.

Casual Drinkers a Problem Too

Remarkably, new research shows it is the social drinkers - not the hard-core alcoholics or problem drinkers - who are responsible for most of lost productivity, according to a Christian Science Monitor article, specifically tying the hangover issue to production in the workplace

This study also found that it was managers, not hourly employees, who were most often drinking during the workday. Twenty-three percent of upper managers and 11 percent of first-line supervisors reported having a drink during the workday, compared with only eight percent of hourly employees.

Researchers also found that 21 percent of employees said their own productivity had been affected because of a co-worker's drinking.

Prevention Works

When the issue of workplace substance abuse is addressed by establishing comprehensive programs, it is a "win-win" situation for both employers and employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A study of the economic impact of substance abuse treatment in Ohio found significant improvements in job-related performance:

  • a 91 percent decrease in absenteeism
  • an 88 percent decrease in problems with supervisors
  • a 93 percent decrease in mistakes in work
  • a 97 percent decrease in on-the-job injuries.
In our next article, we will look at the steps that companies and employers -- large and small -- can take to adopt a workplace substance abuse policy that will reduce the loss of productivity and provide a safer work environment for all.

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