Substance use disorders can touch every part of our lives. Addiction at work can be particularly impactful, as the consequences can have a ripple effect, creating financial stress, disrupting self-confidence and trust, and reinforcing secretive behaviors.
Knowing what workplace issues to look out for can help employees stay focused on recovery-based behaviors. Here are some common problems caused by addiction at work, plus solutions to help navigate the obstacles.
The first problem brought on by addiction at work is lost productivity. One of the primary criteria for substance use disorders is that people spend an excessive amount of time using, seeking, or preventing further substance use. These efforts can bleed into the workplace and interfere with everyday responsibilities.
Lost productivity is of particular importance to employers. Employees who struggle with addiction at work can often show up to work hungover, under the influence of substances, or worn out from substance use. They may struggle to meet expectations and fulfill their job responsibilities, potentially causing revenue loss and added strain on other employees. This is particularly worrying for someone in a position of authority, like lawyers, doctors, and other industry professionals.
People who struggle with substance use disorders often perform worse throughout the day, even if they’re not actively drinking or using drugs at work. They may experience withdrawal symptoms, a lack of attention to their duties, or simply an overwhelming malaise that often accompanies addiction.
Withdrawal Symptoms that Negatively Affect Productivity
People living with addiction often experience troubling withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking substances, even if only for a few hours while they’re at work. The following symptoms can have a profound negative effect on productivity:
- Intense drug cravings
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Anxiety or irritability
- Shakes and tremors
Any of these symptoms can interfere with a person’s ability to focus on work and maintain their performance as an employee.
In addition to lost productivity, people with addictions often have higher absenteeism rates than other employees. For instance, men who drink seven to ten drinks and women who drink five to six drinks on any given day a week are 30% more likely to be absent from work, typically due to injury or illness. Employees whose drinking exceeds these levels are even more prone to absenteeism and are 50% more likely to miss work than moderate or non-drinkers.
Absenteeism affects both the employee and the employer. It amounts to even more lost productivity on the part of the employee and places more strain on other workers. It could also lead to punitive action, lost wages, and eventually end in job loss.
Productivity loss, absenteeism, and the symptoms of substance use disorders can all lead to punitive action by an employer, leaving someone struggling with addiction out of a job and without an income. Many employers have specific regulations that forbid illicit substance use, and a simple drug test can lead to termination.
Job loss is devastating for everyone but especially destructive for people who struggle with addiction. They may spiral further into substance use without the responsibility of a work routine and become unable to support themselves or their families. Lost wages may make it harder to seek addiction treatment.
Job loss can also affect employers, especially in workplaces requiring significant training. Losing and replacing an employee can lead to unexpected costs, downtime, and strain on a company. For this reason, it’s often beneficial for employers to set up employee-assistance programs for people struggling with substance use disorders. Helping employees recover from addiction is frequently the more cost-effective option.
Workplace Injuries and Death
The last problem that frequently affects people dealing with addiction at work is the increased risk of injury or death. Workplace accidents are a tragic occurrence, and addiction plays a significant role in the risk of workplace injuries and fatalities.
In one study, researchers found farm workers who drank several days a week had a 70% higher risk of injury than non-drinkers. Furthermore, an investigation in Iowa found that one in five workplace fatalities included positive toxicology tests, usually including alcohol and cannabis.
Workplace injury is most common in physically taxing jobs, such as construction or agriculture. Unfortunately, these workplaces often have the highest rates of addiction at work. Part of the danger is that addictive substances can impair an employee’s reflexes and judgment, even if they’re not currently intoxicated.
Treating Addiction at Work
While there is no quick fix for solving the problem of addiction at work, there are a few steps that employees and employers can take to mitigate the risks associated with substance use in the workplace. These interventions can improve outcomes at work and help people struggling with addiction get on the path to recovery.
Changing Workplace Cultures
One of the first things employers can do is change their workplace’s substance-use culture. Many companies incorporate alcohol into regular events, get-togethers, and celebrations, and in so doing, they tacitly endorse substance use at work.
Shifting away from a drinking culture can do wonders in reducing the problem of addiction at work and making it easier for employees to make better choices.
Helping People Struggling with Addiction at Work
Too often, a company’s solution for dealing with addiction at work is immediate termination. But as we’ve discussed above, termination can harm the company by contributing to turnover and triggering devastating consequences for the employee. Instead, management can focus on helping employees find the treatment they need to recover.
Addiction Treatment for Employees
Employees struggling with addiction can often start the addiction treatment process themselves. Seeking treatment can help you to keep your job, regain lost productivity, and help you to overcome substance use disorder.
Many employees seeking addiction treatment are eligible for federal job protection through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows certain employees of large companies to take protected, unpaid leave for medical reasons. Make sure to talk to your employer about attending rehab and tie up any loose ends before starting treatment.
If you’d like to learn more about how All Points North Lodge helps employees and employers who face addiction at work, reach out to our team through our contact page.
- Mangione , T W, et al. “Employee Drinking Practices and Work Performance.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, 4 Jan. 2015, https://www.jsad.com/doi/10.15288/jsa.1999.60.261.
- “Family and Medical Leave Act.” United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla.
- Chau, N et al. “Relationship between job, lifestyle, age and occupational injuries.” Occupational Medicine (Oxford, England) vol. 59,2 (2009): 114-9. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqp002