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Workplace Substance Abuse

workplace substance abuse

Workplace Substance Abuse

Workplace substance abuse is a threat to the employer, as well as to the employee. It’s also a threat to the economy at large. And that affects everyone. Here are some steps you can take to address the issue of drugs on the job.


Managers and supervisors need to be trained on all aspects of substance abuse. So do workers themselves. Especially vis-a-vis opioids, which are prevalent in all levels of every industry. A responsible company will provide comprehensive instruction to all staff, regardless of rank. That information should include the names of common brands, risk factors for opioid misuse and abuse, and reasons for opioid prescriptions. This should also discuss non-opioid pain-relief alternatives, signs of opioid disorder and ways to safely dispose of opioids, as well as how to talk to family and friends about opioid use. Follow-up protocol training is equally important. Why? First, because it can reduce the chance that someone ever even takes an opioid, and second because it significantly helps reduce the stigma of opioid use disorder (OUD).


Workplace substance abuse policies help set expectations and boundaries for staff, so it’s important for a company to have in place clear, compassionate, drug-free guidelines. Workplace substance abuse policies are not only designed to prevent unnecessary opioid use, but also to reduce the risk for misusing opioids or developing an opioid-use disorder. Workers and supervisors should also be trained to recognize signs of drug use and impairment. Identifying and dealing with these situations early can help prevent workplace accidents. It can also act as a buffer to opioid misuse.

Companies should also draft flexible medical-leave policies. Employees must be given ample opportunity to make medical appointments, as well as to fully recover after an accident or injury. Overly restrictive medical-leave policies risk prolonging opioid use. They may even cause a worker to illegal obtain opioids so they can return to work early.

Workplace Culture

A supportive workplace is one of the strongest prevention mechanisms an employer can provide. In fact, studies show a supportive workplace significantly reduces the risk of employees developing an opioid-use disorder. When employees feel supported and encouraged to seek help when needed, early diagnosis becomes possible. Early diagnosis of course can help prevent emerging substance-use disorders from progressing and becoming worse.

It’s crucial for companies to promote health and wellness in the workplace. If your bosses aren’t actively addressing the issue, speak up. If you’re a boss, step up. You may want to suggest forming an employee committee that specifically attends to matters of health and wellness. Or perhaps organize an in-company health fair or wellness-designed brown-bag lunch. Any activity that actively promotes a healthy lifestyle will be a boon for everyone.

It’s also important for companies to hold workplace stress to a minimum. Employers should encourage self-care. They should also carefully listen when employees complain of stress and then take any steps necessary to address the issue. A company would do well to promote overexertion initiatives. No, that’s not a matter of simply working too hard. It concerns ergonomic injuries, specifically of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels and spinal discs. Those injuries may be caused by excessive lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, reaching or stretching, as well as repetitive motion, working in awkward positions, or sitting or standing in one place for prolonged periods of time. Whatever the reason, America’s National Safety Council says overexertion is the second leading reason (after falls) that adults age 25-64 end up in emergency rooms and is, by far, the largest contributor to the country’s workers’ compensation costs.

Health Care Plans and Programs

Health care plans can and should provide preventative services as well as the customary treatment. They should be confidential and easy to use, cover both mental and behavioral health services, and encourage regular screenings for substance-use disorders. Health care plans should also cover alternative pain management treatments, including non-opioid drugs, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical and occupational therapy. Where narcotics are concerned, it’s important to remember that many pharmacy benefit management programs now offer opioid-specific services.

A company would also be wise to provide an employee assistance program (EAP). According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (basically the Federal government’s HR department), an EAP is “a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems” that affect mental and/or emotional well-being. EAPs are particularly useful in providing help to employees who are battling opioid use disorder.

Workplace Substance Abuse

Substance abuse negatively affects all aspects of the U.S. economy through lost productivity, higher absenteeism, workplace accidents, staff turnover, increased illness and lower morale. All told, misuse of drugs and alcohol costs the country anywhere from $620 billion to over $1 trillion annually. And while some see signs of a slight leveling off, those costs are in no way diminishing.

While substance abuse impacts every industry, not every industry is equally impacted. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the mining and construction industries report the highest heavy use of alcohol (17.5% and 16.5% respectively). On the other hand, accommodations and food service employees are most likely to have used illicit drugs (19.1%).

The news isn’t all bad however. The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, an analysis of 10 million drug tests found that opioid testing positivity rates actually decreased by 37 percent. That’s the country’s lowest level in four years!

All the more reason to maintain our vigilance with regards to workplace substance abuse. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, there are steps you can take to address the issue. And you owe it to yourself, as well as your colleagues, to do just that. Because only a concerted effort will keep the numbers trending downward — and keep our collective health rising!

Addressing Workplace Substance Abuse Since 2002

Healing Properties has been addressing the issues of addiction since 2002, and that includes the issue of workplace substance abuse. And we remain committed to the issue, both on property and within the companies where our residents are employed. In fact, we insist that every associated company adheres to comprehensive workplace substance abuse practices and protocols.

The above infographic was culled from The site is developed and maintained by Recovery Brands, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, which is a leading provider of both residential and outpatient addiction treatment services.

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