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Dealing with substance abuse at the workplace

That substance abuse is a serious issue and menace at the US workplace needs no iteration, if one takes a look at these disturbing statistics compiled by the National Drug Free Workplace Alliance (NDWA) for five years from 2008 suggest:

-        Close to nine percent of the workforce in the age group of 18-64 used alcohol heavily in one month prior to the survey


-        More than eight percent used illicit drugs in the same preceding period


-        Between nine and ten percent of the employees were dependent on either alcohol or illicit drugs for a year prior to the survey


-        Substance abuse correlates to the industry in which people work. Mining and construction workers are prone to be the highest consumers of alcohol, while those in the accommodation and food services industry topped in the use of illicit drugs.

These statistics apart, there are many aspects of substance abuse that are of serious concern to the workplace. When employees resort to substance abuse –defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the illicit and unauthorized use of harmful substances such as alcohol and/or drugs among others –they become a liability for organizations in more senses than one.

Effects of substance abuse at the workplace

Employees who resort to substance abuse at the workplace suffer from issues that affect their own productivity and that of others:

The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information estimates that the loss, from substance abuse is around $ 13,000 annually per employee. The direct or indirect loss from substance abuse amounts to over $100 billion for the US economy overall. This figure is pretty conservative, since it does not factor in how much more this money could have generated if it were to be put on the right resources.

It also does not take into account the psychological aspects of substance abuse, such as the disturbance it places on the family, and the loss that this habit causes by stunting the emotional development and productive potential of the children affected by the habits of the bread earning member of the family.

These are just some of the ways by which substance abuse affects employees on a day-to-day basis:

  • Employees who are prone to substance abuse are less productive at work
  • They are less lively and are more likely to be lethargic during working hours
  • Their decision-making ability is hampered
  • They have a tendency for getting into verbal and physical fights with their peers
  • Drug or alcohol-dependent employees are more prone to illnesses and injuries, resulting in higher cost of medical attention

Management and HR need to act

Given the enormity of the problem of substance abuse at the workplace, it is imperative for managements and HR to become proactive in dealing with the problem. The onus certainly is on them to prevent and contain the problem of substance abuse at the workplace.

The ways of doing this will be the important learning from a webinar that is being organized by TrainHR, a leading provider of professional trainings for the human resources industry. At this webinar, Dr. Steve Albrecht, one of the country’s leading experts on work and school violence prevention and on dealing with high-risk employees, customers, and taxpayers, and who wrote co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence back in 1994, will be the speaker.

To hear from an expert of this stature about how to deal with issue of substance abuse at the workplace; please enroll for this session by visiting

A look at recent ambiguous laws

Dr. Albrecht will focus on the recent changes into state marijuana and medical marijuana use, which have made it quite difficult for employers to understand what is legal and what is not when it is used by employees, when consumed both during and off the job. He will cover the most common drugs of use and abuse, including stimulants, like meth and cocaine, hallucinogens, opiates marijuana, alcohol depressants, and dissociative anesthetics. He will explain the protocols for drug testing, results discussions, and return to work.

Above all, he will equip them with the understanding needed to determine if the employee’s altered behavior at work or low performance are a result of substance use. HR and other managerial cadre normally tend to overlook certain behavioral tendencies in problem employees or rationalize them to rule out the influence of drugs.

He will impart the following learning objectives from this session:

  • Recognize how drugs and alcohol are abused
  • Know how to identify the signs, symptoms, and behaviors of employee drug or alcohol use
  • Know how to have “crucial conversation” with employees suspected of drug or alcohol use
  • Understand the drug testing process, discipline, and return to work, and termination

Dr. Albrecht will cover the following area at this webinar:

  • Drugs and alcohol abuse
  • Types of drugs employees abuse and why
  • The testing process
  • Treatment programs
  • Discipline and Termination
  • Return to work.

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