Supporting Employee's – The Importance of Fostering a Drug-Free Work Environment

Office meeting

In a country where drug addiction statistics are on the rise, it’s not a surprise that drug use among employees is a growing problem. This is particularly harmful too, as one employee's addiction harms all the other employees and the place of employment. According to an article in Very Well Mind, the total loss to companies in the United States due to drug and alcohol abuse is about $100 billion per year.

When an addict uses drugs, he harms himself considerably. But if he is under the influence while working, he hurts the company he works for as well. Job performance is impaired, workplace safety is threatened, and production is reduced. Workplace resources are then diverted to help him, and the entire work environment is negatively impacted by just one employee’s drinking or drug use.

What can companies do to address substance abuse constructively?

A Story Out of Maryland

A U.S. News story out of Maryland explores the hardships of one industry, that of correctional officers. This type of workforce is rife with depression, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, all forms of stress and difficulty, PTSD, occupational injury, and just about every kind of workplace hardship imaginable.

In the U.S. News article, staff writer Katelyn Newman writes about how the Anne Arundel County Department of Detention Facilities, Recovery Centers of America, and the Anne Arundel County Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team are all working together to improve workplace conditions for Maryland correctional officers. This means taking extra steps to ensure correctional officers don't use substances to cope with the hardships of their job.

The article goes in-depth on the struggles of correctional officers, and it explores how the above organizations are working together to make conditions better. Proposed solutions include programs like “critical incident stress management systems.” Such systems would be installed within correctional facilities themselves. These programs can offer peer-to-peer support from other correctional officers, as well as professional counseling and support on-site.

The goal in Maryland correctional centers is to offer immediate help to jail guards for the stresses and the hardships of their job before those jail guards turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. It’s a wise approach, and it would be good if other businesses and industries implemented similar programs within their own companies. The best way to stop drug use and heavy drinking among a workforce is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place.

The Statistics – Looking at the Prevalence of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Hiding alcohol in an office.

“One survey found that nine percent of heavy drinkers and 10 percent of drug users had missed work because of a hangover, six percent had gone to work high or drunk in the past year, and 11 percent of heavy drinkers and 18 percent of drug users had skipped work in the past month.”

That’s a quote from Very Well Mind. Those stats are just the beginning of the harm that drug and alcohol misuse plays on the workforce. Let’s take a look at this stat as reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The report is an older one, but its message is no less relevant today.

  • According to SAMHSA, “Combined data from 2008 to 2012 indicate that an annual average of 8.7 percent of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month, 8.6 percent used illicit drugs in the past month, and 9.5 percent were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.”
  • Also, according to SAMHSA, industries like mining, construction, accommodations, and the food industry are the industries most affected by substance abuse.
  • The research tells us that about 17 percent of miners drink heavily, and about 16 percent of construction workers do the same.
  • In the food and accommodations industries, about 19 percent of employees engage in illicit drug use.
  • And in conclusion, again quoting SAMHSA, “Substance use negatively affects U.S. industry through lost productivity, workplace accidents and injuries, employee absenteeism, low morale, and increased illness. U.S. companies lose billions of dollars a year because of employees' alcohol and drug use and related problems. Research shows that the rate of substance use varies by occupation and industry.”

The Dangers of Substance Abuse – Why Employers Should Prioritize Sober Work Environments

Drug use and alcohol misuse are costly to businesses. But even more critical than the financial cost, such habits are also quite hazardous. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics on workplace accidents and how they are often the result of drug or alcohol impairment. According to an article in Occupational Health & Safety:

  • About 65 percent of all on-the-job accidents are caused by employee drug or alcohol use.
  • About 38 percent to 50 percent of all worker’s compensation claims are related to drug use or alcohol misuse.
  • And according to the National Safety Council: “Employees with an alcohol use disorder miss on average 34% more days than other workers and are more likely to experience a workplace injury. Healthcare costs for employees with an alcohol use disorder are estimated to be twice that of other employees. Those with alcohol use disorders make more emergency room visits and spend more days in the hospital.”

Employers need to make sure their employees are not using drugs and alcohol, and if they are, that those employees get help for such addictions. This is not just a matter of workplace production. The lives of employees are at stake.

Looking at Prevention Efforts and Helping Addicted Employees

Interview at work

Employers can take a significant bite out of workplace substance abuse by merely making a concerted effort at preventing workplace substance abuse. Drug testing is a big part of this, but that is only one step of many that employers should take. Just as importantly, employers should host frequent educational meetings and seminars with employees on the dangers of substance abuse, the effect such habits have on the workplace, the risks of workplace accidents, the health risks, etc.

For too long, we have considered addiction to be solely a personal issue. It’s not. When a person has a drug habit, that habit very clearly hurts other areas of the individual’s life. It affects his family, his friends, and his workplace too.

If you know someone in your company who is struggling with a drug habit, make sure they get help. It’s not “just a problem for them.” Their addiction will bring the overall attitude and culture of the work environment down. Their addiction could lead to accidents and injuries. Their substance abuse could lead to their death. If you have someone in your company or on your team who struggles with addiction, make it your priority to get them into a treatment center. It will benefit them, and it will help the entire workforce as well.


Reviewed and edited by Claire Pinell, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.