Substance Use in the Workplace
As a manager, it’s pretty easy to support your employees in good times. But how do you help them through the rough times? It’s especially difficult when one person’s difficulties affect the entire team. Alcohol or substance use is one of those challenges. The misuse of alcohol and drugs among your staff can have expensive medical, social, or safety consequences; as a supervisor, it’s your responsibility to address these problems to protect both workers and the company.
How big is the problem?
You might think that drugs and alcohol aren’t a problem in your workplace – you probably even have a policy or two addressing the use of substances. But chances are, at some point in your career you will probably have an employee with problems related to alcohol or drugs. Of the more than 16 million Americans who are heavy drinkers, 76.1% are employed; approximately 1 in 11 workers in the US has had a problem with alcohol or drugs in the past year.
How does alcohol and drug use affect the workplace?
Research shows that employees who abuse alcohol or drugs cost companies billions of dollars a year in increased insurance and healthcare costs, injuries and accidents, lost productivity, and absenteeism. For example:
- Medical costs. 38-50% of workers compensation claims are related to the use of alcohol or drugs in the workplace.
- Accidents. 65% of on-the-job accidents are related to alcohol misuse.
- Lost Productivity. Employee efficiency and work quality can be affected by hangover, tardiness, and loss of concentration due to alcohol or drug use.
- Absenteeism and Presenteeism. Workers with alcohol or substance use disorder are absent 4-8x more often than other employees – about 7 days more each year. In addition, family members of those with alcohol or substance abuse disorder may be absent or less productive due to concerns about their loved one.
- Workplace cohesion. Workers who use alcohol or drugs can have mood or behavior concerns that affect their co-workers, including anger issues.
- Other costs. An employee’s alcohol or substance use disorder can lead to increased turnover and training costs.
What should I do?
As a manager, it is not your responsibility to diagnose an employee’s alcohol or drug problem. However, there are warning signs that might alert you that something is wrong:2
- Frequent absences or tardiness. Unusual or excessive absences or tardiness, especially those that are unexplained or follow a pattern, like before or after the weekend, or after payday.
- New or unexplained performance problems. Missed deadlines, incomplete assignments, or work that isn’t of typical quality.
- Difficult work relationships. Newly strained relationships with co-workers, belligerence, or becoming argumentative.
- Unusual behaviors. Mood or behavior changes, sleeping on duty, theft, unsafe use of equipment, asking for pay advances, or physical signs of intoxication.
If you suspect that an employee may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, it is crucial that you follow all company policies and procedures – not doing so can have legal ramifications. Consulting with Human Resources can help to ensure that you follow appropriate steps. Any confrontation with the employee should be calm, confidential, and deal only with facts, not accusations. Your goals are to protect the employee as well as the company. HR may recommend a referral to the EAP.
A little good news
Confronting an employee about a drug or alcohol problem is never easy. The good news is that employees who successfully get treatment for substance use disorder show huge improvements in absenteeism, problems with supervisors, mistakes at work, and on-the-job injuries.1 The steps you take to help them can be truly life-changing.
 Substance abuse in the workplace: The risks and how to help (recovered.org)
 Alcoholism In The Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors (opm.gov)
 The Dangers of Substance Abuse in the Workplace (verywellmind.com)
 Implications of Drug Use for Employers - National Safety Council (nsc.org)
 How to Accommodate Workers with Addiction and Mental Health Conditions (shrm.org)