It’s a sobering realization, isn’t it, that no matter how strong a relationship we think we have with our employees, we likely will never fully know the people on our payroll? Many of us continue to have misconceptions of what a drug or alcohol abuser looks like, making it hard to detect a “high-functioning” abuser of illicit drugs or alcohol until something goes wrong.
Don’t find yourself among those saying “I never would have suspected it.” Learn the facts about substance abuse in the workplace and some steps you can take to protect your team, your clients and your business.
What are Illicit Drugs
It’s one of those “ticking time bombs.” If you have substance abusers in your employ, it truly is only a matter of time before you see the impact on your business. And it’s not as uncommon as you might think – 70% of adult illicit drug users in the U.S. are employed. Additionally, an even higher percentage of alcoholics and binge drinkers are on someone’s payroll. Substance abuse is not always easy to detect and, unfortunately, oftentimes when it is, the issue is ignored due to lack of expertise in how to deal with it.
Two of the most commonly used federally-illicit drugs are marijuana and cocaine. In recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs such as Xanax, Adderall and Oxycodone is also on the rise (we’ll address this growing trend in a future post). Most people recognize that cocaine is highly addictive and dangerous in the workplace, but marijuana, often viewed as a “safe” drug, still presents significant liabilities for employers. Emergency room visits related to marijuana use increased 59% between 2006 and 2010 and are second only to cocaine among accidents involving individuals abusing illicit drugs. Truth is, there is no safe drug use in the workplace. Any substance that impairs judgement or alters perception results in increased risk of injury, decreased production and loss of revenue.
Why Do Individuals use Illicit Drugs
The appeal of illicit drug use is for the physical and emotional reactions they deliver to the user. Feelings of happiness, mild hallucinations, euphoria, self-confidence and sociability are all effects chased by casual and frequent users of these drugs. At other times, drug abusers are trying to mask a deeper emotional void such as a feeling of emptiness or loneliness or to self-medicate as an escape from stress or anxiety. An individual’s reasons for using and abusing illicit drugs are their own. When the impacts of the individual’s illicit drug use surface in the workplace, however, those reasons become your concern.
Impact of Illicit Drug Abuse on the Workplace
Each year drug abuse and addiction cost American companies $81 billion. On average, substance abusers cost employers $13,000 a year. They are 3 times more likely to have an accident while at work and 5 times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim. A national study on alcohol-related occupational injuries reported that about 16% of emergency room patients injured at work have alcohol in their system. The costs of having illicit drug users on your payroll is spread across the organization. Their related problem areas include:
- Chronic Absenteeism
- Loss of Production and Efficiency
- Poor Decision Making
- Impaired Judgement
- Decreased Morale Among Co-Workers
- Higher Turnover / Cost of Replacement
- Conflict with Co-Workers and Supervisors
- Sale of Illegal Drugs to Other Employees
Industries with Highest Illicit Drug Use
With an estimated 14.8 million drug abusers (more than 10% of the US workforce) having full time jobs, chances are high that someone in your organization has a drug problem. Substance abuse has no demographic boundaries and can affect individuals from the executive suite to the mailroom. The industries most commonly affected are listed in the table below:
Minimizing Your Risk
To protect your employees, your clients and your business, it is imperative to have a drug-free workplace policy and program in place. Such initiatives have proven to increase morale, reduce workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities, lower employee theft rates, increase productivity and lower employee turnover. When designing and implementing a program for your business consider including these elements:
- A Drug-Free Workplace Policy: A written document distributed to all employees that sets the expectations and tone for your organization’s drug-free program.
- Employee Training: A recurring training program for both employees and supervisors to provide both knowledge and awareness of the risks, warning signs and company’s policies regarding substance abuse in the workplace.
- An Employee Assistance Program (EAP): An external resource made available for employees who test positively for drugs, ask for assistance or are referred by their manager for a possible problem with drugs or alcohol.
- A Comprehensive Drug Testing Program: Including pre-employment and random testing to identify drug users and deter “would-be” drug users among employees in the workplace.
Let us help with some heavy lifting. The following on-demand training courses from our online course library can help bolster your learning and development program in this important area.