Addiction and Problems at Work

When someone suffers from substance abuse and addiction, their addiction not only negatively affects them, but it also affects those around them. This can include friends, family members, friends, and loved ones.

Their addiction can also affect their ability to do their jobs, which, in turn, can adversely affect their employer, coworkers, and even their employment status.

The Effects of Addiction in the Workplace

One of the signs that drug and alcohol use and abuse adversely affect a person’s life is that they begin to struggle at work or school. They might come in late, not perform up to standards, or even not show up for work entirely.

The effects of substance abuse and addiction in the workplace go far beyond just the addicted person. Their alcohol or drug addiction can negatively affect their coworkers, boss(es), and the company as a whole.

Some of the most significant impacts that addiction can have in the workplace include:

  • Lost productivity
  • Workplace theft
  • Poor decision making
  • Missing multiple days of work
  • Injuries
  • Inappropriate workplace behavior
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Unacceptable job performance
  • Absenteeism
  • Legal problems
  • Increased health insurance costs
  • Loss of employment

Addiction in the Workplace Stats

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 1 out of every 10 workers in the United States struggle with alcohol or illicit drug use.

Below are some additional facts and statistics about substance abuse and addiction in the workplace:

  • Male-dominated fields and businesses have a higher rate of alcohol-related issues than female-led ones
  • Over 75% of all heavy drinkers are employed
  • Construction workers have the highest rate of drug and alcohol addiction at 19%
  • Approximately 16% of all service workers (hospitality)
  • Employees who suffer from substance use disorder are absent from work an average of 1.5 weeks more a year than those without an addiction
  • Drug and alcohol-related issues cost U.S. companies more than $33 billion each year in lowered productivity, attendance, and increased insurance and healthcare costs
  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and addiction in the workplace account for over 60% of all on-the-job accidents

Factors That Lead to Substance Abuse in the Workplace

While many people’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are unrelated to their job, for some, their job is one of the contributing factors to their substance use disorder. The pressure of their job, the field they work in, and the culture their workplace promotes can all play a role in their drug and alcohol use.

Stress

While having a drink to “unwind” or “de-stress” might seem innocent enough, getting into a routine of having a few drinks at the end of a stressful workday can increase the risk of developing a substance abuse issue.

People in high-stress fields with long hours tend to suffer from substance abuse and addiction at a higher rate than those whose work produces less stress. Examples of professionals in high-stress fields include:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Lawyers
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Individuals in the financial field (stock brokers, money managers, etc)
  • Corporate Executives
  • First Responders (police, firefighters, EMTs, etc)

Culture

In some lines of work, drinking is part of the job. While drinking or doing drugs might not be actively promoted or encouraged by management, it might be supported by the overall culture of the industry and viewed as normal behavior.

An example of an industry where drinking and doing drugs is viewed as normal behavior is the hospitality industry, particularly the restaurant industry. In the restaurant industry, it is fairly common for the collective group to go out drinking once they have finished work for the day. In fact, roughly 12% of all food service workers engage in heavy drinking every week.

Some other industries that tend to have a workplace culture where drinking or doing drugs are considered “normal” include:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Agriculture
  • Arts and Entertainment

Signs an Employee Has a Substance Abuse Problem

As an employer or coworker of someone you may suspect is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, the sooner you can identify the problem, the better the chances that not only can that person get the help that they need, but it can also minimize the risk to your company.

Below are some signs to keep an eye out for that might indicate an employee or coworker is suffering from a substance use issue:

  • Regular tardiness or absences with vague or no excuses
  • A noticeable drop in work performance
  • Changes in personal hygiene
  • Excessive use of sick or personal days
  • Requesting vacation days with no advanced notice
  • Physical indicators such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol on the breath, track marks, etc
  • Doing things to mask their substance abuse
  • Increase in work-related accidents or error rates
  • Physical signs of intoxication such as slurred words, drowsiness, jitters, etc
  • Impairment
  • Inexplicably asking for a raise or complaining about money
  • Unexplained or uncontrolled mood swings
  • Poor interactions with coworkers or bosses
  • Physical signs of withdrawal such as trembling, sickness, weight loss, hangovers, etc
  • Asking for advances on their paycheck multiple times
  • Missing crucial deadlines
  • Noticeable changes in energy levels
  • Lying or stealing

Addiction Treatment Options

One reason why people don’t go to treatment for substance use disorder is they fear that by doing so, they will lose their job. That is not always the case.

Substance misuse is sometimes recognized as a mental illness under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA states that when a drug or alcohol problem is considered a disability, the employer must provide the employee with accommodations to address their issues.

As an employer, encouraging an employee to seek treatment for their substance abuse issues by letting them know that their job is safe can go a long way in getting them the help they need while also improving the office’s overall productivity once they return.

While inpatient rehab is sometimes the most effective type of substance abuse treatment, outpatient programs are available for those seeking help for their substance abuse but cannot take an extended period of time off from work to go through residential treatment.

Getting Help for Addiction in the Workplace

Addiction in the workplace doesn’t just affect the person suffering from addiction, it can affect bosses, coworkers, and even the bottom line of the company itself.

Call the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit their online program locator to find addiction treatment options in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction in the Workplace

How does addiction affect the workplace?

Some of the most significant ways that addiction can affect the workplace include:

  • Workplace theft
  • Poor decision-making
  • Loss of productivity
  • Missing multiple days of work
  • Injuries
  • Inappropriate workplace behavior
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Unacceptable quality of work being performed
  • Legal problems
  • Increased insurance costs

How do you tell if an employee has a substance abuse problem?

If you suspect that an employee or co-worker is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Regular tardiness with vague or no excuses
  • A noticeable drop in work efficiency
  • Changes in personal hygiene
  • Excessive use of sick or personal days
  • Requesting vacation days with no advanced notice
  • Physical indicators such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol on the breath, track marks, etc
  • Doing things to mask their substance abuse
  • Increase in work-related accidents or error rates
  • Physical signs of intoxication such as slurred words, drowsiness, jitters, etc
  • Impaired coordination or judgment
  • Inexplicably asking for a raise or complaining about money
  • Unexplained or uncontrolled mood swings
  • Poor interactions with coworkers or bosses
  • Physical signs of withdrawal such as trembling, sickness, weight loss, etc
  • Asking for advances on their paycheck multiple times
  • Missing crucial deadlines
  • Noticeable changes in energy levels
  • Lying or stealing

Can I get help for my addiction without losing my job?

Yes, thanks to anti-discrimination laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may be able to keep your job while getting help for your substance use disorder. If you are unable to take time off from work to go to inpatient rehab, you might be able to seek treatment through an outpatient or partial hospitalization program.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

10 references
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  2. Government of Canada, C. C. for O. H. and S. (2022, December 15). Substance use in the workplace: Osh answers. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/substance.html

  3. Home. Manager Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://managers.usc.edu/health/substance-abuse-in-the-workplace/

  4. Implications of drug use for employers. National Safety Council. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/drugs-at-work/substances

  5. Employer resources. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/workplace/employer-resources

  6. Policy, data, oversight work-life. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/reference-materials/alcoholism-in-the-workplace-a-handbook-for-supervisors/

  7. Substance use disorders by occupation – National Safety Council. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.nsc.org/getmedia/9dc908e1-041a-41c5-a607-c4cef2390973/substance-use-disorders-by-occupation.pdf

  8. Joe Reilly. Sep 01, 2014. (n.d.). Drug Testing & Safety: What’s the connection? Occupational Health & Safety. Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://ohsonline.com/articles/2014/09/01/drug-testing-and-safety.aspx

  9. Substance use and substance use disorder by industry. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1959/ShortReport-1959.html

  10. Substance abuse in the workplace: The risks and how to help. recovered. (2022, October 20). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from https://recovered.org/addiction/drugs-and-alcohol-in-the-workplace

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