March 27, 2003
Editor's Note: Part 2of this series outlined preventing and dealing with the problem.
Substance abuse and the workplace are a lethal mix that can raise costs, reduce profits, and lead to serious injuries and fatalities. The most recent numbers from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) are staggering:
Some behaviors are obvious indications of substance abuse. Individuals dependent on heroin, cocaine, or crack, who must have these drugs to get through the day, clearly are substance abusers. And the dependence can be psychological as well as physical.
Abuse also can include regular marijuana use, heavy drinking, weekend binges, and casual consumption of tranquilizers or misuse of other prescription drugs. Substance abuse is any use of drugs or alcohol that threatens physical or mental health; inhibits responsible personal relationships; or diminishes the ability to meet family, social, or vocational obligations.
According to the NCADD, certain factors increase the potential for substance abuse:
Studies have shown that employed women drink more and with greater frequency than nonemployed women. These studies point to greater accessibility to alcohol and complex issues surrounding the gender balance of a workplace or occupation as being the primary reasons for the increased consumption—not job stress, job conflict, or role overload.
Among the occupations reporting higher rates of illicit drug use are construction, food preparation, and food service workers. Heavy alcohol use follows a similar pattern, although auto mechanics, vehicle repairers, light-truck drivers, and laborers also have high rates of alcohol use.
The lowest rates of illicit drug use are among workers in the following occupations: police and detectives, administrative support, teachers, and child care workers. The lowest rates of heavy alcohol use are among data clerks, personnel specialists, and secretaries.
It can be difficult to identify all but the most blatant cases of substance abuse in the workplace, but there are signs that suggest possible drug and alcohol problems:
Marijuana users may have bloodshot or glassy eyes and a persistent cough. Cocaine users display increased energy and enthusiasm early in their drug involvement. Later they may exhibit extreme mood swings and become paranoid or delusional. Alcohol abusers find it hard to conceal hangovers. Their productivity declines, and they may show signs of physical deterioration.
The abuser is severely damaging his or her health, relationships, financial status, and future. Individuals with drinking problems or alcoholism at any time in their lives suffer income reductions ranging from 1.5 percent to 18.7 percent, depending on age and sex, compared with those with no such diagnosis.
In the workplace abusers negatively affect their co-workers and the employer's bottom line. Absenteeism among alcoholics or problem drinkers is 3.8 to 8.3 times greater than normal and up to 16 times greater among all employees with alcohol and other drug-related problems. Drug-using employees take three times as many sick benefits as other workers and are five times more likely to file a workers' compensation claim.
Nonalcoholic members of alcoholics' families use 10 times as much sick leave as members of families in which alcoholism is not present.
Forty-three percent of CEOs responding to one survey estimated that use of alcohol and other drugs cost them 1 to 10 percent of payroll.
Clearly, substance abuse is a serious problem in the workplace. In Part II of this series, we will examine what can be done to prevent, detect, and deal with the issue.