Defining Workplace Substance Abuse

Workplace substance abuse is defined as the use of any substance that can negatively affect a person’s judgment and performance while on the job. It includes coming to work impaired or taking substances while at work.

Frequently abused drugs include alcohol and other controlled substances (opioids, marijuana, cocaine, heroin), but legally prescribed and over-the-counter medications can also be abused while at work.

How Substance Abuse Affects the Workplace

Many roles involve being focused, alert, and accurate, so when someone is under the influence, they become impaired, causing issues that can affect the job site in many ways.

Some ways companies are affected by substance abuse are:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Safety incidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased efficiency
  • Theft of company property
  • Employees nodding off
  • Poor decision making
  • High turnover rates
  • Low morale
Employees can be affected by substance abuse as well. Effects include:

  • Being tired
  • Losing focus
  • Feeling isolated
  • High levels of stress
  • Arriving late to work
  • Problems with coworkers
  • Injury or death to self or others
Coworkers of addicted employees may also have to work longer hours or take on additional tasks to make up for the lost productivity. Employees may also be at higher risk of getting injured or killed on the job due to negligent behavior.

Cost of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

According to Harvard Medical Publishing, in 2017 more than 70% of individuals with alcohol or illicit drug use issues were employed. The same study found that companies lose $81 billion in profits every year due to substance abuse at work.

According to American Addiction Centers, in 2017, drug abuse and addiction cost companies more than $740 billion a year in lost productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.

The Surgeon General's 2016 report, Facing Addiction in America, found that the U.S. spends $120 billion a year to treat substance use disorders and the injuries and other health problems that come with substance abuse. These costs are not paid solely by the user or their families, but by company-paid health insurance as well, causing premiums to rise.

If a job is lost due to substance abuse while at work, costs come with replacing that employee. Replacing employees usually comes at one-third of that employees’ annual salary. Costs are greater for highly trained and highly-skilled workers and those in upper management positions.

Developing a substance abuse policy can help curtail these issues in the workplace.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Before you can establish a substance abuse policy, you’ll need to be able to recognize and address signs of substance abuse. It’s a very sensitive and private matter and employees may be scared to answer questions honestly or report coworkers abusing substances.

Common signs of substance abuse include:

  • Decrease in attendance or performance
  • Withdrawal from job or coworkers
  • Mood swings or attitude changes
  • Openly discussing money issues
  • Change in appearance/hygiene
  • Unusual patterns of behavior
  • Sleeping on the job
  • Acting defensive
  • Slurred speech

Preview Videos from The BizLibrary Collection

Substance Abuse Toolkit: Workplace Substance Abuse

This video gives a brief overview of the dangers of substance abuse in the workplace by discussing the many costs of substance abuse on an organization, the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, and the impact of substance abuse on the workplace.

Opioid Epidemic: Drugs, Addiction, and the Workplace

This video dives into the basics of the opioid epidemic, how it impacts the workplace, and how prepared organizations are to deal with the epidemic.

The Effect of Legalized Marijuana on the Workplace

This video provides information on how to handle a workplace impacted by legalized marijuana and covers marijuana as a controlled substance, user effects on workplace performance, and how an employer can handle the legalization of marijuana.
These are just a few examples from our online employee training library - click the button to explore more compliance training videos from The BizLibrary Collection! BROWSE LIBRARY

Addressing Substance Abuse

When addressing any issues with an employee, come at it from the perspective of job performance. This keeps conversations targeted on work issues and less on a personal attack of the employee. Things to bring up can include missed work, late arrival, and diminishing productivity.

Make sure that the employee feels valued, respected, and worth investing in. Avoid being judgmental and give the employee an opportunity to explain (though it is wise to prepare for denial or defensive attitudes).

Present the employee with your expectations and any options that are available (for example, treatment) and provide them with resources. It is important to create a climate that supports employees’ personal growth.

For legal purposes, be sure to document everything. Having a written timeline of events signed by all involved can be useful if the employee needs to be terminated or there are any legal proceedings that happen.

Creating a Substance Abuse Policy

Designing policies that address decorum at work and an acceptable code of behavior is a great step in developing a substance abuse policy. Policies should also outline substance use and abuse, list who is covered by the policy and/or program, include a statement addressing employee rights to confidentiality, and if education or training will be provided to employees.

As a company it is important to decide how substance abuse at work will be handled. It will need to be determined if the employee is to be immediately terminated, if they are given the opportunity for treatment, what disciplinary actions will occur, or something else.

Determine whether an Employee Assistance Program could be beneficial. They can help employees anonymously and provide needed resources such as hotlines, therapy appointments, and referrals to treatment options.

Another thing to consider is drug testing in the workplace and whether that happens frequently, randomly, upon employment, etc.

How Online Substance Abuse Training Can Help

While you may have developed a policy, training can reinforce it. Providing training to employees helps ensure a workplace is safe for employees, customers, and vendors and remains a productive environment. Training builds a shared sense of responsibility for the success of a policy.

Online training is quickly becoming the best way to teach employees and managers how to help prevent and respond to substance abuse at work. Numerous studies have shown that online training is often more effective, and learners retain more information than with classroom training alone.

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BizLibrary curates a large and diverse video training library with numerous courses focused on substance abuse awareness and response.   Our microlearning format breaks content up into smaller, more manageable chunks, making it easier for employees to learn and apply these skills on the job.

These online courses can be viewed on an individual basis or as part of a group training environment or discussion.

Help keep your employees safe and healthy by utilizing modern, engaging training content in an easy-to-use platform. Talk with an expert to learn how our online learning solutions can transform training in your organization.

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