Managing Wellness

Addiction in the Workplace: How to Spot the Signs and What to Do Next

  • Employers need to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in the workplace
  • Only approximately 20% of people receive treatment, despite their need for medically supervised assistance
  • The cost of employee drug treatment is very economical when compared to the potential loss of productivity and revenue
Posted by July 18, 2019

Addiction in the workplace reflects the silent epidemic that’s present in every other part of our society. Oftentimes, employees hide their dependency on substances, only to become debilitated and self-destructive. And employees who are addicted to substances sometimes resist getting treatment until it’s too late.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), although an estimated 20.7 million people needed substance abuse treatment in 2017, only around 4 million of them received that treatment.

Smaller businesses tend to bear the brunt of the costs of addiction, due to increased use of emergency services that force insurance premiums to go up, combined with the loss of productivity and unplanned absences. So how can employers manage addiction in the workplace?

Have Clear Policies on Substance Use in Place

There’s a good chance that at least a few of your employees are currently struggling with some form of addiction. It’s important to take a stand as an employer and have clear policies on drug and alcohol use to maintain the safety of your workplace. This effort can help to control the costs associated with substance abuse and treatment management.

The National Safety Council recommends that all employers make substance abuse screening, intervention and referrals to treatment a standard part of their health care plan.

The most effective substance abuse conversations are handled privately, with management and HR present. Letting them know it’s been reported that they’ve been abusing drugs or alcohol during company time, explaining the company’s substance abuse policy, and talking about treatment options starts the process. Remember, each state has different laws when it comes to substance abuse in the workplace, so make sure your employees’ rights are respected and that you’re in accordance with the law before proceeding.

Referrals should be handled discreetly. In these instances, a multi-contact approach to ensure that the employee is participating in treatment may be in the interest of your business. Make it clear to the employee that if they commit to treatment and a clean lifestyle, then your company can commit to accommodate them as much as possible on their path to recovery.

Know the Warning Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction

The signs of drug and alcohol abuse insidiously affect both employees and the business if they are not addressed. Indra Cidambi, M.D., told Psychology Today that some of the most common warning signs of drug abuse in a workplace include:

  • Moodiness, irritability and indifference for no apparent reason.

  • Sweaty hands, reddened nose or eyes, deteriorating teeth and gums, and a loss of interest in personal hygiene.

  • An increase in breaks. Sometimes, employees will retreat to the bathroom to take drugs or drink, vomit, pass out and hide.

  • Sudden difficulty in getting to work on time or skipping work entirely.

  • Constantly asking coworkers to borrow money or seeming desperate for payday advances.

There are other things to consider. For instance, productivity levels will start to drop when an employee engages in illicit drug activity or binge drinking. Their health and judgment will decline, and they may make careless errors and experience accidents on the job. Conflicts between employees can also increase because of this erratic behavior.

Besides increased work absences, employees with substance abuse issues may come to work but be unproductive, a problem known as presenteeism.

How Employers Can Manage Drug Addiction Costs

It’s important for employers to pay attention to these warning signs and then take action by talking with employees. Sometimes these personality or health shifts can be attributed to other health conditions, but if they are connected to substance abuse, employers can take the position of being supportive in employee recovery.

Studies have shown that the savings related to health care can exceed the costs of substance abuse treatment 12 to one. Employers can do their part by ensuring employees have access to ongoing support through their employee assistance program, their physician and community programs.

For more tips on managing employee health, visit United Concordia’s Benefits Bridge.

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