Millions of people all over the United States abuse drugs and alcohol, and thousands upon thousands don’t make it through the end of the year, with overdoses being the most common drug-related death. With an estimated 15 million people abusing drugs everyday, its difficult to imagine what that could do to the workforce, and some specific industries. Imagine, for example, that the United States lost 15 million people in the foodservice industry. That would mean that restaurant chains and stand-alone locations would be closed for miles around, creating chaos for anyone in the area who relies on restaurants to keep them fed, which includes a litany of young, single people. While the high number of people regularly abusing drugs is a large one, there are steps that employers can take to lessen the chance of addiction hurting their workplace, and their employees.

Addiction is a disease that doesn’t discriminate: there are those among us who are more prone to addiction than others, but this doesn’t mean that those who aren’t prone are immune. Addiction is a phase of drug abuse that can happen within days, if a drug is addictive enough. Opioid drugs are among the most addictive on Earth, and have the power to completely transform a normal, healthy person into a difficult person driven solely by the need to have their next fix. The urge to use drugs can affect the workplace as well as the home, creating a huge, dangerous problem for employers. Some employers don’t bother to treat the problem of drug abuse and addiction among their workers – it is still common to be fired on the spot if an employee is shown to be using drugs at work, or under the influence at work. In cases like this, an employee has few choices. Termination usually disqualifies a person from receiving unemployment insurance payments, and if the police are called, jail time is a possibility, interfering with a workplace’s balance.

The Difficulty with Addicted Employees

employees and addictionIt’s not always immediately recognizable that an employee is regularly abusing drugs: no one’s problem begins so badly that they are committed on the spot, but anyone can progress to that point with continued use. How long it takes to get to that point, though, remains wide and varied: some people are caught under the influence while at work. Bosses who’ve been in charge for years often have stories of wayward employees who came in to work after a long night of drinking, or with red, bloodshot eyes, and a peculiar smell. The various symptoms of addiction can appear in anyone, at anytime, making a difficult situation not only for the family of the addicted person, but also for their employer(s).

It is not, nor ever will be, the responsibility of an employer to protect their employee from the terrible effects of drug and alcohol abuse. The downside of this, of course, is that all of the available assistance and support is crucial to healing a person who is living with addiction, and everyone doesn’t have the network of friends and family that would be ideal on the journey to lifelong sobriety. Instead, employers should be encouraged to see an addicted employee as an opportunity to invest in the future of the company. Either way, there will be an expense – either in interviewing, hiring, and onboarding a new employee, or bringing in a temporary person in the missing employee’s capacity. Protecting your business means protecting your employees, and fostering a safe, healthy environment for all to work. Basic compliance with state and local laws can offer a form of prevention, but employers must be actively involved in building great workplace culture in their part of the fight against addiction.

Commit to a Drug-Free Workplace

Many businesses have done this for decades, but it is still a worthwhile investment of time and resources. Specifying to employees that the use of drugs in the workplace won’t be tolerated is a good first step. Educating employees about the challenges that they might create, as well as the professional repercussions of drug use could prevent many curious people from stepping onto a dark path. Another way to combat drugs in the workplace, of course, is drug testing. Today, drug testing is a little controversial: after several communities called for drug testing of welfare recipients, during which it was found that less than five percent of recipients used drugs, drug testing as a means of distributing welfare became a social taboo. Hiring companies continue to test applicants throughout the United States, and this is not a practice that will soon go away. What might help employers maintain control are the hotly-contested random drug tests. Most employees don’t care for random drug testing, but it is possible to limit the spectrum of drugs offered for testing by labs.

Open Door Policy

An Open Door policy, as much as it insinuates, simply means that managers and those above them are asked to keep their office doors open, inviting employees in for a talk. Open Door policies are created to bridge the gap in communication that often exists between management and employees. With an open door and a listening ear, a manager is allowed to simply wait until an employee contacts them with a problem or a concern. Open Door policies communicate to employees that their supervisors and managers are available to help them with any problem they may have, even if it is a small personal problem. If nothing else, an employer should be able to direct an employee to the resources they need. Keeping an open door policy is a great way to build trust within a team of working individuals. There is still more, though, that an employer can do to protect their employees.

Don’t miss Part 2 of Protecting Your Employees from Addiction.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.