Curbing the Cost of Substance Abuse

Posted on Monday, May 27, 2019

Employee substance abuse problems cost businesses billions of dollars each year. According to the one survey on drug use done by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the majority of the nation's adults with alcohol or drug dependence issues are employed full-time or part-time. In other words, that means that a significant number of employed adults are substance abusers.

For many of these people, the problem lies with alcohol. American businesses lose $134 billion in productivity annually due to alcohol abuse, according to Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, part of the George Washington University Medical Center. The health care costs for these employees are about twice as high as  for those without an alcohol abuse problem.

Here is a breakdown of some of these increased costs. Employees with alcoholism or drinking problems:

Use twice as much sick time as other employees.
Spend four times as many days in the hospital than the national average.
Have higher rates of job turnover (many problem drinkers have three or more employers within a year).
Are five times more likely to file Worker's Compensation claims.

But drinking-related problems are not limited to alcoholics or heavy drinkers. Significantly, light and moderate alcohol users account for 60 percent of alcohol-related absenteeism, tardiness, and poor work quality.

And the problems of alcohol abusers go beyond the individual. About 20 percent of employees say they have been injured by, covered for, or had to work harder because of other employees' drinking.

Data such as this shows that alcohol and other substance abuse takes a toll on workplace productivity, and contributes to higher medical costs for treatment of the addiction and for substance-related medical issues. Employee substance abuse problems also result in an increased occurrence of workplace accidents and higher disability and Workers' Compensation costs. Clearly, it is in an employer's business interests to seek ways to minimize the impact of employees substance abuse on the workplace.

What Can Businesses Do?

Experts in the field stress the importance of educating employees about the health hazards of substance addiction and encouraging them to seek early treatment of problems. While emphasizing the need for a drug-free workplace, policies that rely primarily on discipline can result in addicted employees hiding their problems out of fear of losing their jobs and co-workers enabling such behavior in a spirit of friendship. In a punitive environment, addicted employees may resist seeking help - such as medical treatment or a rehabilitation program - until a crisis occurs.

How EAPs Help:

    Employee Assistance Programs provide counseling for a range of issues including alcohol and substance abuse, marriage and family problems, financial difficulties and workplace conflict. Businesses take part in these programs because they feel that stressful events in an employee's life can adversely affect productivity, workplace morale, attendance and concentration. Other EAP components include:

Worksite awareness programs,
Web-based information and treatment referrals,
Support for employees in recovery, and
Supervisor training to help spot problems.

Since most medical insurance plans include at least some substance abuse benefits, workplace communications about a business's policies on alcohol and drug use should include this information, as well as any Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services available. (See right-hand box for more about EAPs). People are more likely to seek help if they feel the cost is within their reach and they may not even realize that the benefits are available to them.

Confidentiality is Key: Communications to employees about any available benefits should stress that medical plan and EAP services are confidential. This, along with a supportive (rather than punitive) environment, increases the likelihood that employees will seek the help that they need.

Screening for alcohol problems among adults who visit their primary-care providers show that one in five men and one in ten women meet the criteria for at-risk drinking or alcohol dependence. Every April, many employers participate in the National Alcohol Screening Day, by sponsoring confidential programs that allow employees to assess their drinking. This confidential screening, when it reveals high-risk, can be the first step in addressing problems.

If employees leave work for alcohol treatment, employers should keep in touch with them. When the time comes to return to work, it's helpful if the employees can ease back into work life, with accommodations such as flexible scheduling and time-off for continuing-care appointments.

With many dollars in lost productivity at stake, there are compelling business reasons to promote substance abuse awareness. And, because employment is such an important part of most people's lives, the workplace can be an effective arena for substance abuse intervention to begin.

Posted in Tax Topics For Individuals

Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

"Bruner Dental has been with DWD for well over 15 years. The entire team at DWD has been helpful in many ways. From simple questions day to day, to audits, payroll needs, and much more; they…"

Rondell Nelson

Bruner Dental