Implications of employee drug use on employers

Apr 21, 2022
Written by WR Communications

The National Safety Council states workers typically miss three work weeks (15 days) annually related to illness, injury, or other reasons unrelated to vacation time or holidays. However, workers with substance use disorders (SUD) miss two additional weeks each year compared to their peers, nearly five weeks (24.6 days) a year. Most of these extra missed workdays are related to illness and injury. Workers who have reported previously receiving substance use treatment, and have not had a substance use disorder within the past year, miss the least number of days of any group – even compared to the general workforce – at 10.9 days.

Studies show the base cost incurred by employers for the recruitment and training of replacement workers can range from approximately one-third of a worker’s annual salary to as much as 90-200%. Costs to replace workers with more education and training are higher, while those who earn less and work in lower-skilled industries are lower.

Nearly 9% of working adults have substance use disorders, including 6.7% with alcohol use disorders and 1.6% with disorders relating to cannabis use. Industries with younger, male-dominated workforces, such as construction, have higher rates of substance use disorders. Other industries, like entertainment and food service, with easy access to alcohol, also have higher rates. However, workers from all industries struggle with substance use disorders.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, substance abuse-related fatalities were at a 12-month all-time high—100,000 people—between April 2020 and April 2021.

Addiction issues are impacting employers’ ability to hire and retain workers. Even when an employee does not have an addiction, a family member’s addiction can wear down the employee’s productivity.

Even though drug addiction isn’t a new problem, synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl, have only worked to compound the situation.

According to the National Safety Council, 75 percent of employers say they have been directly impacted by employees taking opioids. Yet, only 17 percent believe they are well-prepared to handle the matter.

The data about employees using alcohol and recreational drugs during the workday is even more surprising.

A survey of 1,011 employees throughout the U.S. conducted by Sierra Tucson’s Self-Medication Nation, an addiction treatment center, revealed that:

  • One-quarter of respondents admitted to having participated in a Zoom or video-based work call while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or other recreational drugs.
  • One in 5 admitted they had used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs while working remotely.
  • Nearly three-quarters said that if their employer insisted they return to the office, they would miss the chance to use marijuana and other drugs during the workday.
  • More than one-quarter acknowledged working from home allowed them to use alcohol and other drugs during the workday, which they considered an added benefit.

These alarming numbers reveal a critical need for education, awareness, communication, and intervention. Although there is often a lingering stigma around substance use disorders, most employees won’t reach out for help.

What can employers do?

  • Encourage employees to be proactive in seeking out the support they need and provide emotional support by assuring them that you’re there to help in any way you can.
  • Regularly remind employees of the availability of access to mental health benefits.
  • Maintain open lines of communication.
  • Support and encourage healthy habits.
  • Remain observant of unusual employee behavior.

Ensure your employees know that they can reach out to management in confidence—without judgment—if they are struggling to keep their healthy resolutions and need professional or peer support. They aren’t alone in their struggle.

Rick Means, Director of Safety and Education, is available to help members with safety. Contact Rick at 360-943-9198, Ext. 118 or [email protected].