Managing Substance Abuse in the Workplace
The Prevalence of Substance Abuse
in the Workforce
Research indicates that 15% to 17% of employees negatively affect their organization's success as a result of substance abuse. Indeed, the Small Business Administration reports that, on average, an employee engaged in inappropriate substance use costs their employer $7,000 to $25,000 annually, and the human costs are even greater.
Forty-seven percent of serious workplace accidents and more than one-third of workplace fatalities involve drugs or alcohol. A major hospital emergency department study showed that 35 percent of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers.
70% of the estimated 2.8 million Canadians who use illegal drugs are employed. While alcoholism and drug misuse can affect any industry and any organization, big or small, it is especially prevalent in these particular industries - Foodservice, Drilling and Excavation, Transportation, Construction, Mining, law enforcement and the military.
While the Canadian military has seen a decrease in drug and alcohol rates in recent years, the rates are still well above average. As well, the reported rates of illicit drugs increase when active-duty personnel leave military service. The same holds true for law enforcement.
In Canada, approximately 21% of the population (about 6 million people) will experience a substance use disorder or addiction at some point in their lives. Substance misuse cost the Canadian economy $49.1 billion in 2020. Lost productivity alone costs $22.4 billion or $589 per person.
The Canadian Human Rights Act defines dependence on drugs or alcohol (substance dependence) as a disability. This means that when an employee is diagnosed with substance dependence, they cannot be fired; they can only be terminated for drug-related violations of workplace policies. This means you MUST be educated as you deal with substance abuse in your workplace.
In this session we will examine:
- The science of substance abuse - how and why it occurs
- The definition of substance misuse
- A brief overview of the societal implications
- Key statistics and trends
- Substance use vs. abuse
- Common misunderstandings about SUDs
- Substances that are commonly abused
- How employees get hooked
- Becoming a substance abuser
- Understanding the three stages of substance dependency
The Impact of Substance Abuse on the Workplace
Besides negatively impacting the lives of the person engaged in substance misuse it also affects industry in several ways, including a loss of productivity and job performance, as well as workplace accidents and injuries. In 2020, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that 388 of the 4,786 fatal work injuries that year resulted from unintentional overdose from the use of non-medical drugs at work.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) estimates that substance abuse costs employers almost $50 billion annually. The cost of lost productivity and absenteeism at work because of drug and alcohol abuse alone exceeds $25 billion, and another $25 billion is lost due to increased healthcare costs. Additionally, an estimated 80% of drug users support their drug use by stealing from their place of work.
One of the characteristic signs of substance misuse is a general deterioration of workplace performance. The cognitive, emotional, and behavioural impairment that results from drug and alcohol misuse can affect productivity, morale, and even the safety of other co-workers. The list of negative consequences includes:
- Productivity and performance decline.
- Increased errors
- Accidents and safety concerns
- A suppression of motivation
- Absenteeism and turnover
Behavioural Impacts – carelessness, risk-taking, declining performance, as well as a failure to follow rules and safety procedures
- Thief and other acts of dishonesty
- The contagion of decreased morale
- Industrial accidents and workplace injuries
- Financial implications and hidden costs
- Substance abuse is a complex and destructive disease - but it is treatable
Identifying Substance Abuse in
While many employees manage to keep their problem with drugs or alcohol neatly hidden from coworkers or superiors, some signs may belie these efforts, including tremors, taking excessive breaks, a distinct odour associated with alcohol or marijuana withdrawal - isolating themselves at work, or avoiding work-related social occasions.
- The presentation of alcohol or drug intoxication in the workplace.
- Behavioural signs of alcohol and drug abuse
- Physical signs, symptoms and other indicators of abuse
- Red flags for substance misuse
- Watching for observable behaviours consistent with cognitive impairment
- Illegal activities, such as buying or selling drugs at work, or crimes like embezzling
from the company
- Alterations in personal appearance
- Mood swings and attitude changes
- Poor decision-making and increased risk-taking
- An increased desire for privacy
- Withdrawal from responsibility and contact with associates
- Manipulation - a common trait for individuals prone to it ion
- Issues with financial management, such as not paying bills on time or requesting to borrow money
- Decreased appetite often with attendant weight loss
- Unusual behaviour patterns, including the inability to concentrate; even sleeping on the job
- Defensive attitudes and hostile behaviour
- Aggressive or belligerent behaviour resulting in verbal, physical, or even sexual assault
Understanding the Behavioural Components of Substance Misuse
The phrase "addictive personality" gets tossed around a lot these days. The genesis of this idea or term perhaps comes from the observation that while most people can have a glass of wine or a cocktail, buy a lotto ticket, or even experiment with drugs without getting hooked, some fall down the rabbit hole of substance abuse the moment they have their first sip, win or smoke.
Does your employee or yourself, for that matter, have an addictive personality?
This is the wrong question to ask. The desire to use drugs stems from biological, social, environmental as well as psychological factors.
There is no such thing as an "addictive personality!"
Personalities are very complex; however, while there's not one specific type that's more prone to addiction than others, there are several factors or traits that can combine to make an individual more likely to become addicted. Several longitudinal studies have shown that certain traits or characteristics can suggest a higher risk of developing substance misuse.
In addiction treatment, the Behavioural Styles (iMind) assessment can be given to patients in individual psychotherapy, along with other tests like the Myers-Briggs and DISC Assessment.
- The eight recurrent traits found in those suffering from substance abuse
- How to identify these traits in your workforce
- The role that gender plays in substance abuse
- First, understand the person you are hoping to influence
- Why some are unable to self-regulate
- The role depression or other mood disorders play
- Understand the role behavioural patterns play in substance abuse
- Behavioural strategies to achieve the results you desire
- Prepare effectively for conducting crucial interviews
- Analyzing your own Behavioural Styles Profile
- An overview of laws related to substance abuse in the workforce.
- Being aware of legally sensitive areas
- Rights and responsibilities of employers and employees
- Regulations you must adhere to under the OHS regulations
- The law on discrimination against workers who are being treated for alcoholism or drug misuse
- When might alcoholism be considered an OHS-covered health condition?
- What is 'accommodation', and when might it apply?
- Warning supervisors about their presumptions when an employee returns to work after taking leave for a substance abuse problem
- How doing or saying the wrong thing could violate the OHS, the ADA or both
- In Canada, substance abuse is a disability, full stop! Workers cannot be fired for having addictions, they can only be terminated for drug-related violations of workplace policies
- Safety-sensitive industries and medical disclosure policies
- The line between personal privacy and professional concern.
Effective Intervention Strategies
As a manager, supervisor or business owner, at some point, you will likely encounter employees with problems related to addiction. In some cases, it may not be evident that there is a substance abuse issue. In other cases, you may know, either because the employee admits to being an addict or the problem becomes self-evident. Your role is not to diagnose the substance misuse but to exercise responsibility in dealing with the performance or conduct problem, hold the employee accountable, and take any appropriate disciplinary action.
Your role in dealing with substance abuse in the workplace is crucial. Sometimes, the most effective way to get a person with an addiction to deal with the problem is to make them aware that his or her job is on the line and that he or she must get help and improve performance and conduct or face serious consequences, including the possibility of losing his or her job. At other times, a more nuanced approach will likely be more successful. The following factors and approaches are important:
- Creating a supportive environment.
- How to approach the employee and confront the issue
- How to report drug and alcohol-related concerns
- Are reliable witnesses available?
- Drug and alcohol testing basics
- Discuss and describe performance expectations
- How to intervene when you suspect an employee is drinking at work
- Why managers must maintain specific records of employee performance
- Approach the person, but not as an enforcer
- Keeping the focus on job performance
- Setting deadlines for improved job performance.
- Takes a proactive approach to training your employees and supervisors
- Influence strategies for turning resistance into agreement
- The role of education and testing
- What are the physical dangers of taking or not taking action?
- When should you call security, law enforcement, or 911?
- Dismissals and return-to-duty
Building a Substance-Free Workplace
Your substance-free workplace initiative is an invaluable tool in efforts to strengthen and protect your business and your employees from the perils of alcohol and other drug misuse. Creating a written drug and alcohol-free policy that reflects the needs of your workplace and applicable laws is a vital part of a successful drug-free workplace program. Integrating the Substance Abuse Policy into your workplace culture and environment and keeping the program responsive to changing conditions is also vital.
- Implementing and enforcing drug-free workplace policies.
- Types of resources you might inventory as part of your planning process
- The critical importance of a Substance Abuse Policy
The need for a written drug-free workplace policy clearly outlining expectations
Writing and Implementing a Substance Abuse Policy
The significance of understanding and consistently enforcing your company's substance abuse policy
Determining whether to implement drug testing
Recognizing that addiction recovery is a process rather than an event.
What is the role of a supervisor in a drug-free workplace
Providing education and training for employees and supervisors