One In Six Americans Struggles with Substance Use Disorder. Here’s Why Employers Can No Longer Ignore This

In an era where mental health and wellness are increasingly recognized as pivotal to employee productivity and satisfaction, the widespread prevalence of substance use disorders in the workplace presents a critical challenge that employers can no longer afford to overlook. Employees' struggles with drug or alcohol use often go unnoticed, leading to a variety of hidden costs for both individuals and the companies they work for.

At NorthStar Transitions, we delve into the realities of substance use in the workplace and explore the transformative potential of recovery-friendly policies. By understanding the depth of this issue and embracing more compassionate and practical approaches, employers can play a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of addiction and improving employee well-being.

Most Americans Know Someone Struggling with Substance Use

Many people mistakenly believe that addiction is a problem confined to the margins of society. However, statistics show this is simply not true. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that approximately 16.5% of Americans 12 and older suffer from some kind of substance use disorder, including 29.5 million people with alcohol use disorder and 24 million with a drug or opioid use disorder. Additionally, nearly 107,000 Americans died of an overdose in 2021, an increase of over 400% since 2010. 

With numbers like this, chances are most of us know someone with addiction in their past or present, whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague or neighbor. 

Contrary to popular belief, over 60% of adults with a substance use disorder are gainfully employed, challenging stereotypes that people with addiction are unproductive and jobless. Drug and alcohol use is an issue in almost every industry, from foodservice and entertainment to real estate and healthcare. But in most workplaces, it’s unthinkable that job seekers or employees who are in recovery would volunteer that information for fear of being harshly judged or fired. 

However, confining substance use to the shadows often has the effect of contributing to a work environment where issues are swept under the rug rather than addressed openly, increasing the cost of substance use to both individuals and their employers. 

How Addiction Impacts Businesses & Employers

Employers lose billions of dollars each year to substance use in the workplace — an estimated $81 billion, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). These losses come from lower productivity, increased healthcare costs, theft and absenteeism. Employees dealing with addiction are more likely to call in sick, arrive late or leave early, which disrupts workflow and affects daily operations. They’re also more likely to hurt themselves or others on the job, which is of particular concern when heavy machinery is involved. One study found that one in five workers reported being injured or put in danger due to a coworker’s drinking, or having to redo work or cover for them.

Substance use in the workplace can also decrease morale and lead to higher turnover. Employees who have to pick up the slack tend to look for other career opportunities, while those with an untreated drug or alcohol problem don’t stick around as long. Replacing employees is not only costly in terms of recruitment but also results in lost knowledge and experience. Hiring and training new employees to the same level of proficiency can be a lengthy and resource-intensive process. Experts report that finding and hiring a replacement can cost employers up to two times more than that employee’s annual salary. 

Due to these costs, employers might think the best solution is not to hire anyone in recovery or with former addiction issues. However, that just isn’t possible, nor is it beneficial. The widespread prevalence of substance use means that nearly every workplace has at least a few employees with addiction in their past or present. Having a recovery-friendly workplace helps to address the problem of substance use head-on, improving the well-being of employees, decreasing turnover and making company policies fairer and more supportive. 

Recovery-Friendly Workplaces

In response to the growing substance use crisis, a movement toward establishing recovery-friendly workplaces has been gaining momentum. This initiative, backed by bipartisan support, encourages businesses to change the way they approach substance use in the workplace. Instead of policies and practices that see employees with positive drug tests being written up or fired, it promotes increased access to treatment services and support. This isn’t just about compassion — it’s also practical business sense. Creating a more supportive environment not only aids in recovery but helps to build a more stable workforce. 

Companies that have embraced recovery-friendly policies report a range of benefits. One of the most notable changes is a boost in workplace morale. When employees in recovery feel supported and understood, it fosters a more inclusive and empathetic environment. This sense of belonging and support can lead to increased job satisfaction and a stronger commitment to the company. Employees who feel cared for are more likely to be engaged and motivated to do well, contributing positively to the workplace atmosphere.

Businesses with recovery-friendly policies may also see a decrease in employee turnover. When employees who are struggling with a substance use disorder are given the resources and support they need, they are more likely to stay with a company that understands their recovery journey. This stability is beneficial for both the employee, who enjoys continued employment, and the employer, who retains experienced and trained staff. Lower turnover rates also mean reduced costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new workers, which can be significant, especially in high-turnover industries.

It’s important to note that recovery-friendly workplaces do not permit employees to drink or get high on the job. The focus is still on preventing substance use, but relapses are handled differently. Instead of being seen as grounds for dismissal, a worker with a positive drug test is connected with treatment services and other resources and offered a second chance. They may also be given certain accommodations, such as the flexibility to attend therapy sessions. Policies like this are helping to change the way we see addiction, positioning it as the medical condition it is rather than a behavioral issue or a moral failing. 

Such a shift in perspective is crucial in breaking down the stigma surrounding substance use, allowing employees to seek help without fear of reprisal or judgment.

Find Support at NorthStar Transitions

At NorthStar Transitions, we recognize the complex nature of substance use and provide comprehensive treatment programs that cater to your unique needs. Whether you're reaching out for help for the first time or seeking support to get back on track after a setback, our programs are designed to equip you with the tools needed for long-term recovery.

We understand the significant role that employment plays in the recovery journey. Our treatment plans are not just focused on overcoming addiction but also on preparing individuals to re-enter the workforce with confidence. We also offer programs specifically geared toward professionals struggling with substance use that offer the flexibility to continue working while improving your well-being and building a healthier, sober lifestyle.

If you need more support to get sober and maintain your recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out. Get in touch with us by calling 866-407-2240 or completing our online contact form to learn more about our treatment programs and how they can help.

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