Impacts of Substance Abuse

Studies show an estimated 10 percent of U.S. employees have a chemical dependency, costing employers upwards of $100 billion each year. The most basic losses are attributed to the fact that, on average, an employee who partakes in substance abuse provides approximately two-thirds of the productivity of a sober employee.

Look at it this way: A worker’s salary is the price a business pays for the worker’s contribution to the company. If his or her salary is, for example, $60,000 per year but he or she is only contributing two-thirds of what the employer is paying because of the impacts of substance abuse, the company is looking at a loss of $20,000 each year for a single employee.

In addition, the on-the-job productivity losses don’t include extended behaviors. Other statistics show employees with substance-abuse issues:

  • Leave work early twice as often
  • Are absent from work twice as often and are tardy three times as often
  • File workers’ comp claims five times as often
  • Have an increased likelihood of being the root cause of workplace accidents
  • Have an increased likelihood of stealing or damaging company property

Employees with chemical dependencies also affect their coworkers. One in five employees has had to work harder, redo finished work or has been injured (or nearly injured) as a result of the behavior of a coworker who is under the influence.

Workplace substance abuse can have a stronger impact on small businesses that may not have the written policies or financial means to address accidents, injuries, and loss or damage of company property.

Spotting Substance Abuse

The signs of substance abuse range from vague to completely obvious and depend greatly on the degree to which an employee uses (from casually to compulsively). It is important supervisors are well-versed in recognizing signs so they can address the matter. Some signs to look for may include:

  • Perpetual tardiness or early departure
  • Unknown whereabouts in the middle of the day, doesn’t return after lunch
  • Constant complaints regarding health
  • Complaints from other employees regarding the abuser’s behavior
  • Irrational responses to constructive criticism, ranging from irritation to belligerence or aggression
  • Clear decrease in efficiency or a fluctuating level of performance
  • Repeated injuries on and off the worksite
  • Obvious financial problems (wage garnishment, loss of vehicle, borrowing money from coworkers)
  • Obvious alcohol or illegal drug odors

Keep in mind: Short of actually witnessing an employee drinking or using drugs at work, many of these signs could be attributed to problems that have nothing to do with substance abuse. Certain medications, for example, may present odors that are similar to that of alcohol. It’s vital to never use these signs to jump to conclusions because they’re merely a starting point from which to begin addressing a problem.

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