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Fans of the Mad Men series recall the depiction of the 1960s smoke-filled workplace as one where booze in the desk drawer was a given. Full on liquor cabinets were a staple in many office settings, and triple martini lunches were the norm. In the 80s, cocaine was part and parcel of the toolbox for high producing executives, as a quick sniff of the white stuff was just part of the dessert at lunchtime. People may assume that all that bad behavior was reined in long ago, with zero tolerance policies and drug testing becoming a workplace norm in recent years.
Not so, according to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), which studied the use of drugs and alcohol at work. Apparently, 24% of workers surveyed admit having used alcohol during the workday at least once in the past year, and breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of patients injured at work. In addition, marijuana and cocaine were the most commonly used drugs by employees.
It appears that American workplaces are still rife with substance use. The use of drugs and alcohol at work is still a substantial problem, impacting productivity, employee health, and workplace safety. In fact, it has to be an ongoing issue since, according to the NCADD, 70% of the nearly 15 million adults in the U.S. who use the illegal drugs are, indeed, employed.
In Which Industries Are Employees Using Drugs and Alcohol at Work?
When discussing which careers might contribute most to on the job substance abuse it might be assumed that high stress executive positions might top the list, but others, while represented in the data, surpass these careers for substance abuse. Also notable is the fact that careers such as first responders, emergency personnel, police, and fire are associated with high job stress and subsequent high rates of substance abuse, zero tolerance policies and random testing act as a deterrent for these individuals to use a substance while working.
On the contrary, according to the data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the following industries have the highest levels of substance abuse among those employed full-time:
Illicit drug use by individuals employed full-time
- Accommodations (hotel) and food services (19%)
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation (13.7%)
- Management of companies and enterprises (12.1%)
- Information (11.7%)
- Construction (11.6%)
- Service industries, excluding public administration (11.2%)
- Real estate (10.9%)
- Retail (10.3%)
- Professional, scientific, and technical services (9%)
Alcohol use by individuals employed full-time
- Mining (17.5%)
- Construction (16.5%)
- Accommodations and food industry (11.8%)
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation (11.5%)
- Utilities (10.3%)
- Wholesale trade (10.2%)
- Management of companies and enterprises (9.9%)
- Manufacturing (9.7%)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (9.4%)
Overall, employees in the accommodations and food industries had the highest rates of substance abuse, at nearly 17%.
What are the Signs of Workplace Substance Abuse?
When a coworker is struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder there will usually be some signs of it on the job. It is very difficult to hide the telltale signs of a drug or alcohol problem from people you work alongside day in and day out. Eventually, certain red flags will be exhibited. These may include:
- Declining job performance
- Missing important meetings
- Being consistently late to work
- Becoming less social at work
- Hand tremors
- Decline in appearance and hygiene
- Avoiding work related functions
- Excessive absenteeism
- Discussing financial problems at work
- Facial bloating
- Rapid weight gain or loss
- Mood swings or moodiness
- Manic spells of hyper-productivity (associated with stimulant abuse)
Coworkers who exhibit a cluster of these signs or symptoms of substance abuse are in need of help. An employee who enters treatment for a behavioral health disorder cannot be terminated for going to rehab and should be encouraged to get the help they need.
Effects of Using Drugs and Alcohol at Work
For the employee, the effects of using drugs and alcohol at work are fairly obvious. At some point, their behaviors that are the result of the substance abuse will lead to their termination from the position. For the company itself, workplace substance abuse can have substantial negative effects.
The impact of drug and alcohol abuse at work includes:
- Potential injury at work due to decreased motor coordination, alertness, or judgment, leading to expensive worker’s compensation claims and increases in premiums
- Aggravated assault
- Sexual harassment, abuse, or assault
- Distribution or sales of illicit drugs or alcohol at work
- Reduced productivity
- Psychological effects of substance abuse impacting coworkers
- Theft or embezzlement to finance a drug or alcohol habit
- Reduced morale among staff
- Cost of having to train a replacement employee if termination results
The cost to the employer and the overall work environment is high when a coworker is engaging in substance abuse either secretly while at work, or arriving to work high, drunk, or hungover.
Treatment for Substance Abuse and Addiction
Employees who are struggling with a substance use disorder need help. Often the human resources department will have an in-house response to employees with a drug or alcohol problem, guiding them toward receiving the treatment they need and/or issuing them leave to go to an inpatient program.
Once in outpatient or inpatient rehab, the individual will receive a comprehensive treatment protocol that includes detoxification, if necessary, individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions, addiction education classes, medication assisted treatment, if warranted, and relapse prevention planning. In addition, many rehabs include a 12-step or similar recovery group for additional peer support.
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