Substance Abuse: Symptoms of Abuse


Managers, ask your self a few questions:

  • Is attendance an operational problem on Mondays and Fridays?
  • Are employees complaining about “missing” lunches?
  • Is there truth to the rumors and anonymous information?
  • Are accidents on the rise?
  • Is employee turnover becoming a challenge?
  • Are positive drug tests more frequent?
  • Is your organization experiencing unexplained shrinkage of inventory?

You may be experiencing the magnification of workplace substance abuse. The longer these issues go uninvestigated and uncorrected, the more costly and time-consuming it is to get your workplace in order. You can’t afford to ignore this liability.

Small Businesses Are Most Vulnerable

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have major disadvantages. They are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Employees who are unable to adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at companies that don’t perform pre-employment drug testing (or don’t have policies in place). The cost of one error caused by an impaired and/or under-the-influence employee can seriously devastate a small company.

Among the population of full-time employed current illicit drug users:

  • 44 percent work for small establishments (1-24 employees)
  • 43 percent work for medium establishments (25-499 employees)
  • 13 percent work for large establishments (500 or more employees)

No business, regardless of size or location, is immune to the countless problems that substance abuse can cause. Most individuals who abuse alcohol, prescription medication, and illicit drugs are employed; and when they arrive for work, they don’t leave their problems at the doorstep of their employer’s business.

  • Although the rate of current illicit drug use is higher among unemployed individuals, 77 percent of current illicit drug users in the US are employed.
  • An estimated 6.5 percent of full-time and 8.6 percent of part-time workers are current illicit drug users.
  • An estimated 6.2 percent of adults working full time are heavy drinkers.
  • More than 60 percent of adults know someone who has reported for work under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

You Bear the Brunt of the Problem

Everyone involved in owning and operating a business pays for workplace alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs are obvious, such as higher insurance premiums, increased absences, accidents and errors. Others, such as low morale and high illness rates, are less apparent, but the effects are equally harmful both economically and to the reputation of the organization.

  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work or cover for a co-worker, or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee’s drinking.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses roughly 81 billion dollars in lost productivity in just one year—37 billion due to premature death and 44 billion due to illness. Of these combined costs, 86 percent are attributed to drinking.
  • Alcoholism is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.
  • Of callers to the National Cocaine Helpline, 75 percent admit to having used drugs on the job, 64 percent report that drugs have adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent say they have sold drugs to fellow employees and 18 percent say they have stolen from coworkers to support their drug habit.

Substance Abuse and Drug-Testing Policies

Drug-testing policies protect both employees and employers. It is important for employers to note that drug testing without a drug-testing policy—even if an employee is suspected of having substance abuse problem—exposes them to a number of significant liability and legal vulnerabilities

A written substance abuse (drug-free workplace) policy is the foundation of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program. Every employer’s written policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs; however, all effective policies have a few aspects in common.

  1. First, the policy should clearly state why a policy is being implemented. The rationale can be as simple as a company’s commitment to protecting the safety, health, and well being of its employees and patrons; and the recognition that the abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs compromises this dedication.
  2. Second, an effective policy should clearly outline behaviors that are prohibited. At a minimum, this should include a statement that the “use, possession, transfer or sale, or offer to sell illegal drugs or controlled substances by employees is prohibited while on company time and/or property.”
  3. The third fundamental element is a thorough explanation of the consequences for violating the policy. Consequences may include discipline up to and including termination and/or referral for assistance. Consequences should be consistent with other existing personnel policies and procedures and any applicable state laws.

Employers should also note that sharing their policy with all employees is essential, and many businesses find it helpful to ask for feedback from employees during the initial policy development stage.

Workplace Drug Testing

Under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, some Federal contractors and all Federal grantees must agree to provide drug-free workplaces as a condition of receiving a contract or grant. Under most circumstances, employers have the right to test prospective and current employees for a wide variety of substances.

However, it is important that employers familiarize themselves with the various state and federal laws that may apply to their type of business before designing and implementing substance abuse and drug-testing policies. The majority of employers across the US are not required by law to test, and some state and county governments have statutes that limit or prohibit workplace testing.

Employers should make appropriate use of drug testing, and make sure that their policies and procedures are in compliance with state and federal laws. The best way to ensure this is to retain a qualified and competent background screening and drug test provider.