Substance Misuse And Problems In The Workplace

The prevalence of American adults with substance use disorders (SUD) who are currently employed is 13.5 million, or 8.7% of the population.

Addiction in the workplace can be costly in terms of productivity, healthcare, disability, and worker’s compensation. Studies reveal the extra per capita costs to employers for someone with an active addiction vary by industry. For example:

  • Construction and manufacturing employees average over $6,000
  • Information and communication employees average over $13,000
  • Professional, management, and administrative employees average close to $9,000
  • Financial and insurance employees average close to $7,000
  • Retail employees average close to $6,000
  • Mining employees average close to $9,000
  • Entertainment, recreation, and food employees average over $5,000

Affected employees work in all fields, but the industries with the most employees with SUDs are construction, entertainment, recreation, and food service. Conversely, public administrators, educators, and health and social service workers ranked lowest for SUDs.

Employees with a drug or alcohol use disorder (AUD) miss an average of 22 days annually, which equates to twice the number of days that employees without an SUD miss. Furthering the issue, those with a pain medication use disorder average close to 30 days of missed work.

Job Stress And Substance Misuse

Every job has some level of stress; however, jobs in industries with increased hazards and risks tend to be more stressful for employees. How the employee perceives the stress and copes with it are the indicators most likely to influence substance misuse.

Research shows there is a connection between perceived job stress and substance misuse. Here are a few examples of the findings:

  • Urban police officers binge drink more than the general population
  • Prison wardens had an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Bartenders reported drinking on the job, including binge drinking
  • Female surgeons had higher instances of addiction than male surgeons

Other industries with a correlation between perceived high work stress and addiction include firefighters, truck drivers, construction workers, and journalists.

Workplace Drug Abuse Effects

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports drug and alcohol misuse impacts the workplace in numerous ways:

  • Increased accident and injury rates
  • Accidents that end in fatalities
  • Absences and over-using sick leave
  • Lower productivity
  • Criminal activities at work
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Poor coworker and staff relationships
  • Lower employee morale

When someone misses work due to drug and alcohol misuse, it costs employers a lot of money. Reports claim the costs of alcohol misuse in the workplace cost the United States nearly $250 billion a year. Of that, 62% is directly related to productivity lost in the workplace.

Signs Of Workplace Substance Abuse

Most people try to hide substance misuse from employers and coworkers. However, there are signs to look for if it is suspected someone has a problem, including:

  • Avoiding coworkers or isolating themselves
  • Blaming coworkers for mistakes they made
  • Talking about money problems
  • Declining personal appearance or hygiene
  • Complaining of failing relationships at home
  • Taking time off for vague illnesses or family problems
  • Being excessively late for work
  • Smelling of alcohol
  • Changing moods and behaviors
  • Unusually frequent breaks or trips to the bathroom
  • Showing signs of withdrawal

Alcohol Misuse In The Workplace

Employees who misuse alcohol or have AUDs pose risks to employers. Signs of alcohol use in the workplace include:

  • Being absent from work
  • Using sick leave excessively
  • Being late to work or leaving early
  • Missing project deadlines
  • Making mistakes on essential tasks
  • Making excuses for poor work performance
  • Showing aggression toward coworkers
  • Isolating themselves from others
  • Showing physical signs of alcohol misuse

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Opioids In The Workplace

The National Safety Council reports that 75% of employers state Opioid misuse affects their workplace. Opioid misuse impacts worker’s compensation, with a review of worker’s compensation claims showing that 32% of the claimants with prescriptions had at least one Opioid prescription. Similarly, workers on disability with back injuries with an Opioid prescription have longer terms of disability than those without an Opioid prescription.

Other factors such as geographic location, employee demographics, and size of the company can all contribute to an Opioid problem in the workplace. Examples include:

  • Smaller companies tend to have higher Opioid use rates.
  • Older workers hold more Opioid prescriptions than younger workers.
  • Areas with low rates of health insurance coverage had higher Opioid prescriptions.
  • Rural areas have more workers with prescription Opioids than urban areas.

Medical And Recreational Marijuana Use In The Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Marijuana is the most used illicit drug among Americans. In a survey, more than 43 million people said they used Marijuana in the past year. Of this number, 18% of adult users had full-time jobs, while 21% had part-time jobs.

With many states legalizing Marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, employers are facing safety concerns. Even though Marijuana may be legal, it still causes significant impairment. Studies reveal numerous adverse events related to Marijuana use in the workplace. Incidents are given below, starting with the most significant risk.


Several study results indicated sedation as the number one issue of Marijuana use in the workplace. Sedation includes fatigue, sleepiness, drowsiness, and lethargy. Sedation due to Marijuana use makes it hard for workers to be alert, maintain focus, and react appropriately to situations. It also impacts how a person makes decisions.


Nausea and vomiting cause workers discomfort and impair their ability to function. Weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and other symptoms are associated with nausea and vomiting. They increase the risk of injuries, poor decision-making, and absenteeism.


Dizziness can be a symptom of nausea and vomiting and a highly reported incident. Being dizzy due to Marijuana use on the job can lead to falls, fainting, inability to operate machinery, and lack of concentration.


Euphoria is the high someone feels when smoking Marijuana. It causes reduced reaction time, making it impossible to operate machinery. Increased workplace errors are another disruption in the workplace environment.

Addressing The Issue

Everyone working in a company must take responsibility when it comes to addressing drug and alcohol issues by fulfilling their designated job.

  • Leaders set the tone for what is expected regarding drug and alcohol use in the workplace.
  • Human resources staff communicate what is expected from all employees. They ensure everyone understands the policies relating to their work performance.
  • Supervisors oversee keeping the work environment safe. They must know and abide by the policies, directly communicate with the employees, and advocate for employees needing help.
  • The employee is responsible for understanding laws and policies regarding substance misuse and the job.

Implementing A Substance Use Policy

The CDC recommends implementing a recovery-supported workplace to prevent long-term substance misuse and to lower barriers for those seeking treatment and maintaining recovery. To create a recovery-supported workplace policy, they suggest the following:

  • Communicate the policies with every employee
  • Train all supervisors and employees
  • Evaluate the workplace to identify potential factors or hazards that may lead to substance misuse
  • Promote a healthy work environment
  • Reduce stigma
  • Inform employees of recovery-support resources
  • Utilize an employee assistance program
  • Offer health and well-being programs
  • Offer employment to individuals in recovery
  • Identify and eliminate norms or rituals that promote drinking or drug use
  • Focus on the prevention of future employees misusing substances in the workplace

Find More Information On Addiction In The Workplace

If you are concerned that substance misuse has become an issue for an employee, a coworker, or yourself, help is available.

Contact a treatment provider today. They can help answer your questions, explore your treatment options, and support you on the journey to a more stable, addiction-free future.