Drug and alcohol abuse costs U.S. employers $120 billion a year, according to the National Institute of Health. And the American Council for Drug Education reports that substance abusers don’t just cost the employer a significant amount in lost productivity—they also contribute to increased health care costs and claims against the employer.
According to the Council, substance abusers are:
- Ten times more likely to miss work;
- 3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents;
- Five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim;
- 33% less productive; and
- Responsible for health care costs that are three times as high.
And substance abusers aren’t just a danger to themselves—they are responsible for a full 40 percent of all industrial fatalities.
If you thought it wouldn’t happen in your workplace, think again. Seventy percent of all abusers hold jobs. One worker in four between the ages of 18-35 has used drugs in the past year, and one in every three workers knows about drug sales in the workplace itself.
But supervisors are sometimes reluctant to take action against employees who abuse alcohol and drugs, worrying how the loss of a job will affect the individual. But looking the other way when you suspect substance abuse on the job is actually a form of enabling. And strict detection and enforcement policies serve to decrease abusing from those employees who already have a problem, as well as deterring others from drug and alcohol abuse on the job.
A recent 2012 study from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that supervisor enforcement led to decreased use of alcohol and drugs in the workplace—and actually even decreased drug use outside the workplace.
“It’s only when employees think their supervisor knows how to detect substance use — and is willing to do something about it — that employees’ drinking and drug use on the job decreases,” said Michael Frone, one of the research scientists involved in the project. Frone noted that strong supervisor enforcement can also “reduce stress and improve morale among the majority of employees who do not engage in such behavior.”
To detect substance abuse in your organzation, here are the seven signs supervisors should watch for:
- Frequent, prolonged, and often unexplained absences
- Involvement in accidents both on and off the job
- Erratic work patterns and reduced productivity
- Indifference to personal hygiene
- Overreaction to real or imagined criticism
- Exhaustion or hyperactivity
- Dilated pupils, slurred speech, or an unsteady walk
Source: American Council for Drug Education “Facts for Employers”
Once identified, supervisors should make use of available workplace resources to assist and deal with employees who are abusing drugs and alcohol. These resources—which have a place in every organization—include a substance abuse policy, testing procedures, an employee assistance program and provision of leave for rehabilitation and treatment.
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