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Addiction in the Workplace

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

December 15, 2023

Table of Contents

Drug addiction and alcoholism are on the rise in the United States, both in and out of the workplace.

Data from the recently published NSDUH 2021 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) show that:

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  • 46.3 million over-12s met the criteria for substance use disorder in the previous year.
  • 29.5 million over-12s met the criteria for alcohol use disorder in the previous year.
  • 7.3 million over-12s met the criteria for both drug addiction and alcoholism in the previous year.

Contrary to the popular misconception, most U.S. adults grappling with addiction manage to hold down a job. NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) reports that over 70% of U.S. adults who abuse illicit drugs are in employment. Most people who engage in episodes of binge drinking are also meaningfully employed.

Marijuana, alcohol, and cocaine are among the most abused substances in the workplace. Cumulatively, it is estimated that the abuse of drugs and alcohol by employees costs U.S. companies over $100 billion annually.

Substance Abuse in the Workplace

The misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs by U.S. employees creates medical, social, and safety issues that impact employers and other employees.

Substance abuse in the workplace can:

  • Impair productivity and performance.
  • Threaten public safety.
  • Cause safety issues for the person abusing substances.

Recognizing the signs of addiction in the workplace and prevention policies in the workplace can be valuable tools in reducing the burden of inappropriate drug and alcohol abuse.

Signs of Addiction in the Workplace

While most people who abuse drugs or alcohol at work will try to conceal their substance use, there are nevertheless a cluster of markers that may indicate on-the-job substance abuse.

The signs of addiction can be categorized as follows:

  • Physical signs
  • Psychological signs
  • Behavioral signs

Physical signs

  • Changes to physical appearance
  • Drop in personal hygiene standards
  • Slurred speech
  • Sluggish reaction times
  • Reduced awareness
  • Restricted mobility
  • Distorted hearing
  • Sudden incapacity

Psychological signs

  • Lapses in memory
  • Impaired judgement
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Abrupt mood changes

Behavioral signs

  • Bad time-keeping
  • Poor performance at work
  • Absenteeism
  • Dishonesty
  • Theft
  • Deteriorating relationships with clients, colleagues, or managers
  • Erratic behavior
  • Reduced functionality
  • Inability to perform routine tasks
  • Impaired coordination
  • Reduced levels of perception
  • Fluctuations in focus and energy
  • Distorted reasoning

Alcohol Abuse

There are two primary forms of alcohol abuse in the workplace:

  1. Consuming alcohol before work.
  2. Consuming alcohol at work.

Although it does not involve active drug or alcohol consumption, a third category involves arriving at work impaired from substance abuse the previous night.

If you suspect that someone is abusing alcohol in the workplace, it can be challenging to be sure about the accuracy of your suspicions. The clinical descriptor for alcoholism is AUD (alcohol use disorder). Alcohol use disorder is a chronic and progressive brain condition that is characterized by compulsive alcohol consumption regardless of adverse outcomes. The diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder are outlined in DSM-5-TR (the first revision since the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published by APA (American Psychiatric Association) in 2013. Some of the most pressing of these symptoms include:

  • Repeated failed attempts to moderate or discontinue alcohol use.
  • Drinking alcohol in potentially dangerous situations.
  • Inability to control alcohol intake.
  • Withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol.
  • Cravings for alcohol.

Beyond these symptoms, look out for the following red flags for alcohol abuse in the workplace:

  • Persistent lateness.
  • Hostility.
  • Physical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes.
  • Regular absences.
  • Poor productivity.
  • Slow to get started in the mornings.
  • Breath smelling of alcohol.
  • Unsteady gait.
  • Slurred speech.

The most common consequences of workplace alcohol abuse include: 

  • Reduced productivity: From short-term absenteeism to impaired performance due to the after effects of alcohol abuse, productivity the quality and quantity of work can suffer when an employee is drinking in the workplace.
  • Absenteeism: Research suggests a positive association between chronic and heavy alcohol abuse and absences from work. A 2003 study estimates the cost of U.S. employee absenteeism at $1,685 per employee per annum.
  • Financial cost: It is challenging to quantify the overall financial cost of workplace alcohol abuse. From lost productivity and damaged client relationships to workplace accidents and their associated costs, alcohol abuse at work is costly for employers.
  • Safety: From workplace accidents to injuries sustained by employees impaired from excessive alcohol consumption, alcohol transforms a safe workplace into a potentially dangerous environment.
  • Conflict: Conflict of all types can stem from a worker who drinks in the workplace.

Drugs Addiction

Drug addiction in the workplace causes many of the same issues as alcohol abuse.

Many aspects of the contemporary workplace demand alertness, accuracy, and quick reflexes. If these qualities are impaired through drug use, it can lead to incidents, accidents, and interfere with the efficiency of work.

Impairment at work may result from many factors, including stress and fatigue. Substance use at work, though, can create the following issues:

  • After effects of drug use impacting professional performance.
  • Drug use leading to impairments of alertness, perception, judgment, coordination, and mental state that result in safety issues at work.
  • Illness.
  • Injury,
  • Absenteeism.
  • Reduced productivity.
  • Preoccupation with substance use at work interfering with concentration and attention.
  • Illegal activities at work such as selling drugs to other employees.

It is worth noting that substance abuse occurs on a spectrum from infrequent recreational substance use through to mild, moderate, or severe diagnoses of substance use disorder. As such, the effects may differ considerably.

An employer should consider whether an employee presents a risk to the safety of themselves or others as a result of drug use at work:

  • Can the person perform their job safely?
  • Is their judgment or cognitive ability affected by drug use?

It is not the role of an employer to diagnose substance use disorders in employees, but employers should monitor for any signs of drug use in the workplace to maintain an environment that is safe for everyone.

Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol are:

  • Much less productive.
  • Absent from work three times as often as those who do not abuse substances.
  • More prone to injuring themselves or others.
  • Five times more likely to make a claim for worker’s compensation claim.

These are some of the most common effects of workplace substance abuse:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Accidents
  • Deaths
  • Lateness
  • Sleeping on the job2
  • Hangover
  • Withdrawal
  • Poor decision making
  • Reduced efficiency
  • Theft
  • Low morale among colleagues
  • Friction between employees
  • High turnover of staff
  • Cost of training new employees
  • Disciplinary procedures

Now, addiction in the workplace – an employer’s guide.

Employer’s Guide for Dealing with Addiction at Work

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that if workplace substance abuse is addressed by the establishment of comprehensive programs, both employers and employees will win.

Any employer, however small, can adopt a substance abuse policy in the workplace that is likely to reduce lost productivity and to make the work environment safer for all.

Employers may also enroll in an EAP (employee assistance program) to help workers with substance use issues to connect with community resources and professional addiction treatment services.

Drug addiction (substance use disorder) and alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) are both recognized medical problems. A person who is abusing alcohol or drugs has the same rights to support and confidentiality as those with physical or psychological conditions.

If you determine that an employee is using alcohol or drugs in the workplace, encourage them to consult their primary healthcare provider. You may also consider allowing the person to take some time off work to engage with professional treatment. Addiction is a progressive condition that will get worse if untreated. It is often more cost-effective for an employer to allow a worker to take time off for drug or alcohol rehab than to hire and train a new employee.

If you feel that you require professional assistance to break the vicious cycle of substance abuse, we can help you at Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California.

Get Help at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery in Orange County, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of the following conditions:

  • Alcoholism (alcohol use disorder)
  • Drug addiction (substance use disorder)
  • Prescription drug addiction
  • Mental health disorders
  • Co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis of addiction and mental health disorder)

We can connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout the state of California if you require assistance and supervision during drug or alcohol withdrawal. After a week or so of detoxification, you can transition into one of the following treatment programs:

Regardless of the condition being treated and the intensity of therapy, all Renaissance Recovery Center treatment programs draw from evidence-based and holistic treatments that include:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential adventure therapy

Due to the relapsing nature of drug and alcohol addiction, your treatment team will equip you with an aftercare plan that incorporates coping techniques, relapse prevention strategies, and access to the Renaissance alumni program.

When you are ready to fight back against drug or alcohol addiction, reach out to admissions by calling 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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