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Substance Abuse: The Cost Of The Ongoing Epidemic

Gina KeslerDrug Abuse, Drug testing, Employment Screening, Marijuana

Because of increased stress levels due to the pandemic and other social issues, workplace substance abuse has intensified in many organizations — public and private — along with its very destructive manifestations.

Prescription drug abuse, opioid use disorder, and alcoholism are among the most common and costly health conditions currently affecting Americans. The opioid epidemic alone in our country has reached a cost of more than one trillion dollars. Long after COVID-19 has been forgotten, America’s costly drug epidemic will remain, and American businesses will continue to bear much of the expense.

In addition to a reduction in productivity, increased absenteeism, increased tardiness, more accidents, and higher medical costs, drug and alcohol abuse often results in theft in the workplace, sexual harassment, sabotage, violence, and poor morale. Substance abuse affects work relations and quality of work life negatively and has high financial and social costs on organizations.

Having to work with substance-abusing coworkers can affect employees’ morale, self-esteem, and satisfaction levels which adversely impacts their performance and productivity. Drug addicted employees create tension, nervousness, fear, and anger in the workplace. Substance abuse has an overall negative effect on employees and supervisors, which then impacts customers, vendors, and the organization at large.

As the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end and people begin returning to work, many are bringing stress-induced substance abuse disorders with them.

Employees can only improve their productivity in a positive working environment, which will not be present in a workplace that permits a culture of substance abuse. How then are employers expected to deal with the problems resulting from this increase in drug and alcohol abuse at work?

The Supervisor’s Role

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is bad conduct that violates the company substance abuse policy and code of ethics, and supervisors are responsible for managing employees’ dysfunctional behavior, including impairment at work. This must be done utilizing the different strategies and control measures within the company drug free workplace program.

While tackling and addressing substance abuse issues at work is not an easy job, ignoring it will cause the company losses due to its negative result on employees and the organization.

Supervisors play a critical role in fostering a healthy, drug-free environment at work, and good managers display ethical leadership and provide a good example for employees to behave responsibly and obey company policies.

Employees should of course be rewarded for their achievements and for displaying excellence in their job tasks, but it is also important to impose and enforce penalties and punishment to those who engage in unacceptable workplace behavior. Supervisors should ensure that all employees are fully aware of the company substance abuse policy and the policy must be enforced fairly and justly.

Substance abuse impairs workers’ judgment and increases safety risks. Identifying drug and alcohol users at work protects employees and the company in many ways. Drug testing in the workplace acts as a deterrent to drug use, and for these reasons, it is important for supervisors to utilize the company drug testing program to help minimize accidents and improve productivity.

Drug testing within a state-certified drug free workplace program is conducted for pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and post-rehabilitation. Many companies also include random testing as a part of their drug-free workplace program. A healthy, productive workforce begins with a drug free workplace program that includes comprehensive drug testing.

Another factor that plays a big role in eliminating substance abuse at work is educating employees on the harmful consequences of substance abuse. Supervisors must ensure that employee drug education is provided to all employees annually, and that workers are expected to participate in drug education training, and that it is to be taken seriously.

Supervisors themselves should receive annual training on supervising a drug free workplace. It is important for supervisors to be aware of changing local, state, and federal laws as they apply to alcohol, marijuana, prescription medication, and other drugs.

Supervisors should also be aware of and utilize the company’s treatment referral process. A supervisor referral to treatment is not an adverse action and can be the first step toward helping an employee who is struggling to get back on track.

A comprehensive drug-free workplace program contributes to a workplace free of the health, safety, and productivity hazards caused by employees’ abuse of alcohol or drugs. By educating employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and encouraging individuals with related problems to seek help, supervisors can protect businesses from such dangers, retain valuable employees, and help play a part in making communities safer and healthier.

Summary and Conclusion

Substance abuse at work is becoming more of a common problem that is growing increasingly at many organizations. To combat this, managers must follow drug-free workplace strategies that support employees and prevent impairment in the workplace.

Supervisors must take a strong position on managing and controlling substance-abusing employees by:

  1. Acting as a role model by being an ethical leader who obeys the law and company policies.
  2. Supporting the company drug-free workplace program by enforcing the company substance abuse policy and utilizing reasonable suspicion and other forms of drug testing when warranted.
  3. Helping to spread awareness of the dangers of substance abuse by emphasizing the importance of employee drug education.
  4. Remaining trained and up to date on current drugs of abuse, and the laws and company policies that govern drug abuse in the workplace.
  5. Referring employees with a substance abuse disorder to the company EAP or other counseling/treatment resources.

Originally published by The Council on Alcohol and Drugs. Used with permission.