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It is often hard to detach the idea of drug abuse and the drug abuser from the backstreets of urban centers. However, research indicates that as many as 70% of all illegal drug users are employed.

Furthermore, statistics from 2007 show that up to 79.4% of all adult binge drinkers and a further 79.6% of heavy alcohol users are employed.

The TN Department of Labor and Workplace Development also estimates that at least 1/3 of all employees know of illegal drug trade in their workplaces.

1. Industries Affected

Drug Abuse

Studies have shown that while workplace drug abuse is rife in relatively dangerous industries such as mining and construction, it is also common in other less critical industries such as;

  • Accommodation and food services
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation
  • Wholesale trade
  • Management
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail trade

2. Commonly Abused Drugs

Research by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) indicates that marijuana is the most widely abused drug in the workplace, with cocaine following closely in second place. Other substances commonly misused in the place of work include;

  • Alcohol
  • Depressants
  • Nicotine
  • Opiates (including heroine, morphine and some pain medications)

3. What Contributes to Workplace Drug Abuse?

Firstly, it is important to note that different factors may apply for different drug users in the workplace. What’s more, various factors in the personal and social environment of the individual may play a significant role in triggering drug abuse.

Nevertheless, common causes of workplace drug abuse include but are not limited to;

  • Work or personal stress
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Long working hours
  • Boredom or a lack of “work” leading to long periods of inactivity.
  • Fatigue
  • Relative ease of access to drugs

4. Effects of Work-Related Drug Abuse

Effects of Work-Related Drug Abuse

Drug abuse in the workplace affects some parties including the employee, the employer and even elements of the employees’ social circle.

Research indicates that drug abuse costs employers at least $81 billion on an annual basis.

A survey conducted by HR professionals in 2007 further demonstrates the magnitude of the problem through the finding that drug abuse is a major concern for at least 67% of the HR professionals surveyed.

Workplace drug abuse is one of the reasons behind increased healthcare costs. This is because drug and substance abuse cause mental and physical health problems.

In fact, alcohol users go on four times as many hospital days as non-alcohol drinkers. The high health care costs also trickle down to the family members and dependants of drug abusers.

Drug abuse in the workplace also has the effect of increasing absenteeism and decreasing productivity.

According to some studies, employees who are drug and substance abusers function at just two-thirds of their maximum capabilities. Productivity is also affected by drug abuse-related factors such as; lateness to work, poor work quality, tardiness, low morale, lack of concentration and increased work-place conflicts.

In addition to that, employees who are drug abusers are more likely to request for time-offs, early dismissals or health-related absences. In fact, experts estimate that up to 500 million workdays go to waste every year because of alcohol abuse.

The problem of low productivity may also rub off on the relatives and other close colleagues of drug abusers.

Another major effect of workplace drug abuse is an increased occurrence of workplace injuries and even workplace violence.

According to the NCADD, up to 16% of all emergency room patients injured while at work test positive for alcohol in their bodies.

Studies also indicate that between 10% and 20% of all Americans who die while at work test positive for either drugs, alcohol or both.

Lastly, drug abuse in the workplace also has a direct link to increased employee turnover. As a matter of fact, employees who use illegal drugs are more likely to have had at least three jobs within the last five years as opposed to non-users.

5. The Role of the Workplace in Tackling Drug Abuse

There are several things the workplace can do in a bid to tackle drug abuse. Firstly, it is necessary to come up with a working environment policy regarding drug and substance abuse.

This policy should include a precise definition of workplace drug abuse, recognition of the employee’s right to confidentiality, an awareness creating a program and even the expected disciplinary actions for workplace drug abuse. It is also advisable for the workplace to put in place programs such as;

  • Workplace health and wellness programs
  • Employee Assistance Programs which provide a range of services from the distribution of information to the counseling of employees on drug abuse related issues.
  • Appropriate and comprehensive health plans that encompass formal treatment, peer support groups, drug abuse screening and even follow up services for recovering addicts.

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