How Drug Use In The Workplace Racks Up Huge Cost To The Economy

By Victoria Kim 01/26/16

Drug and alcohol abuse costs the economy $80 billion a year.


The impact of drug and alcohol use in the American workforce is no small matter. A majority of the 14.8 billion Americans who use illicit drugs are gainfully employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Inevitably, this has led to workplace accidents and deaths, translating to a heavy cost on businesses and the overall economy.

Employee drug and drinking problems translate to an $80 billion annual loss to the economy, according to government figures. “Alcohol and drug use among employees and their family members can be an expensive problem for business and industry, with issues ranging from lost productivity, absenteeism injuries, fatality, and theft to low employee morale,” according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). In turn, this results in higher health care, legal costs and workers’ compensation costs.

According to an NCADD report on drug and alcohol use in the workplace, analyses of workplace fatalities show that at least 11% of the victims had been drinking. And workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than workers without them to have injury-related absences.

The NCADD says Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help counteract the problem by supporting employee health. Confronting addiction in the workplace makes sense, says Dr. Elizabeth Drew, medical director of Summit Behavioral Health. It’s where substance abuse can be identified and lead to early treatment, saving both time and money that would add up if a worker’s problem went untreated.

These programs are critical because they help workers take the first step, which is admitting that they have a problem. Nonjudgmental programs which acknowledge that addiction is a disease are essential, since people “tend to be secretive and are often afraid to admit their problems,” says Drew.

EAPs in the workplace can help by encouraging worker health by providing counseling and support for employees struggling with substance abuse and problems with mental health, family, finances, and other personal issues that can affect the employee’s work, says the NCADD.

Cannabis is the most commonly abused drug by employees, followed by cocaine and prescription drugs.

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