10% of American workers struggle with drug and alcohol abuse

PHP Drug TreatmentThe US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released the results of a study finding that one in 10 full-time employees reported experiencing a substance abuse problem in the recent past.

More than 111,500 American adults over the age of 18 who were employed full-time were included in the study between 2008 and 2012, and one in 10 reported struggling with alcohol or drug use disorder in the year prior to being surveyed, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Pamela Hyde is a SAMHSA administrator. She said: “Substance use issues pose an enormous risk to the health, safety, and productivity of American workers.”

Many people assume that those who live with a substance abuse disorder will be unable to function and maintain employment, but the study demonstrates that functional alcoholism and addiction are not only possible but that they are common issues in the American workplace.

Heavy Drinking

About 9 percent of workers surveyed for the study between the ages of 18 and 64 reported engaging in heavy drinking in the past month. Defined as having five or more alcoholic beverages on a single occasion and repeating that choice on five or more separate days out of a month, heavy drinking comes with a host of risks that not only endanger the person’s ability to function while under the influence but also harm mental and physical health long after the effects of alcohol wear off.

Risks of heavy drinking, or chronic binge drinking, include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Unprotected sex leading to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Heart problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Liver failure or disease
  • Harm to unborn fetus
  • Poor control of diabetes
  • Brain damage or decreased cognitive functioning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Accidental injury or death, including car accident, drowning, burns, and falls
  • Intended injury, including self-harm, physical assault, sexual assault, and shooting/stabbing

About 9 percent of employees surveyed also reported past-month use of illicit drugs. This included use of drugs that ranged from marijuana and cocaine to abuse of prescription painkillers and other medications.

Said Hyde: “Every segment of the community needs to help tackle this problem, including employers. By developing and actively promoting workplace programs such as Employee Assistance Programs for helping employees deal with substance use problems, employers can significantly improve the health, well-being, and productivity of their employees.”

Variance Among Industries

Nineteen different industries were included in the study, and the drug of choice as well as the rate of abuse varied significantly across the industries. The study found that:

  • Heavy drinking in the past month was the lightest among health care and social workers at 4.4 percent and heaviest among miners at 17.5 percent.
  • Past-month illicit drug use was lowest among public administration workers at 4 percent and ranged all the way up to 19 percent among food and hotel service employees.
  • The rate of substance use and abuse among full-time employees in the US has remained steady since 2007, according to the study, but there have been big shifts in specific industries. For example, illicit drug use rose from a little more than 16 percent up to 19 percent among food and hotel service workers, but illicit drug use among construction workers dropped from close to 17 percent down to just over 14 percent.

When employees abuse drugs and alcohol, on the job site or off, it puts everyone at risk. Coworkers may be in danger physically when it comes to jobs like food service or construction where one person’s mistakes due to being under the influence or dealing with the aftereffects of a binge can put others in danger. Similarly, the drug user himself may be at greater risk of injury or accident at work, which in turn can cost the employer the loss of a functional and trained employee as well as a great deal of money in medical costs and workers’ compensation.

In jobs where there is little potential physical threat when an employee is under the influence or dealing with the effects of an ongoing substance use disorder, there is still loss felt by coworkers and the employer. Deadlines are missed, projects are botched, and poor choices are made in front of important clients – the repercussions for one employee’s drug use can have a lasting effect, especially on a small company.

No matter what the context, no substance use disorder in an employee should be overlooked or ignored.

Intervention in the Workplace

One of the best ways to help someone at work who is struggling with alcohol or drug use is to stage an intervention. Though it may not be appropriate to hold the intervention at the office or on the job site, coworkers and even the employer may be able to come together outside of work in order to help the addicted employee to recognize that he must seek treatment right away.

In some cases, depending upon the employer, it may be appropriate for the workplace to sponsor the intervention, making it clear to the addicted person that he will have a job to return to if he accepts the offer of treatment but that otherwise his ongoing issues with drugs and alcohol will be the reason for his termination of employment.

Have you ever taken part in a workplace intervention, as the focus or as a participant? What did you learn from the experience? Was it effective? Leave us a comment and share your experience.

10% of American Workers Struggle With Drug and Alcohol Abuse
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