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Addiction in the Workplace

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The opiate epidemic sweeping across Maryland has brought the issue of addiction to the forefront of local news, politics and conversation; and a starting point for conversation about the disease should start with the fact that drug addiction is a disease that does not discriminate; employment, relationships and geography are not protective factors.

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that employee addictions cost employers an estimated $81 billion annually. Further, as of 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that around 10.8 million full-time employees have either a drug- or alcohol-use disorder.

While it’s obvious that addiction has a devastating range of consequences, there are impacts specifically on employers and in the workplace that must be addressed.

Getting It Done?

If an employee has an active addiction, the first major workplace casualty is productivity. If an employee is consistently under the influence of any psychoactive substance, that person easily can go from being a top-level producer to someone who is barely clinging to baseline expectations for his or her position. Even if the employee isn’t using during work hours, there is a clear impact on cognitive functioning and general awareness that will gradually begin to seep into that person’s work. This can take any number of forms, such as providing incorrect information to customers, increased absences, misplaced documentation or files and general lethargy, just to name a few.

Not only do these behaviors impact the bottom line for a company, but for higher level operations or situations involving government clearance or security, they can be particularly devastating. Further effects can be seen in the employees that an addict works with; in order for a business to run smoothly, all of its parts must be functioning properly. If one person’s productivity goes on the decline, more often than not, a trickle-down effect is seen in the others that depend on that person to do his or her job.

Further, decreased cognitive functioning undoubtedly leads to a decrease in general awareness of one’s surroundings. This creates a significant issue in terms of safety in the workplace, for both the employee in question and anyone the person work with. Particularly in an environment where heavy machinery is used, or if there are temporary safety warnings due to construction or custodial work, an unfocused employee can often mean an endangered employee. This can lead to costly expenditures from the company in terms of workers’ compensation and insurance increases.

Assist Needed

There are, however, steps employers can take in order to minimize the impact of employee addiction on their company and bottom line. Primarily, every organization should have a functioning Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a benefits program in place to help employees deal with personal problems, such as addiction, which might otherwise adversely affect their health or job performance. An effective EAP includes regular education and training for employees, so that the dangers of and signs of substance abuse are well-known. This program should also provide a confidential means for employees to communicate either their problems or those of other employees without fear of termination or alienation of their co-workers.

Additionally, all companies should have drug testing not only upon hiring, but also on a continuing random basis for all employees.

Managers should be alert and aware of the signs of substance abuse and be prepared to confront an employee who has a problem. Employers need to be consistent and unwavering in their enforcement of drug abuse policies, but have procedures in place to get employees treatment if they are willing.

Many companies can, without realizing it, create a culture of acceptance surrounding drug use or excessive drinking. It is critical that management not encourage any behavior of this sort, whether by office conversations or by participating in the behaviors with their employees, such as at a happy hour or weekend event.

As an employer, it is critical to be sure that your management team can distinguish proper interactions from improper and are willing to maintain appropriate boundaries. This will ensure the right messages are being sent to the staff at all times and will create a sense of consistency within the company.

Lower the Risk

Ultimately, whatever costs an employer may incur as a result of the institution and maintenance of an active EAP program will be far less than the risk it is taking by remaining unaware of substance abuse within the ranks of its employees. Insurance, workers’ compensation and lost productivity can create exponential fiscal losses in addition to damaging your company culture as a whole.

Education, consistency and awareness are vital elements to ensuring that employees are performing and growing the business.

Larry Adler is founder and CEO of Serenity Acres Treatment Center in Crownsville. He can be contacted at 443-569-6190 and larrya@serenityacrestreatment.com.