Substance abuse is a significant public health concern in the United States. The conversation surrounding individuals suffering from substance abuse is complex and can be stigmatizing.
Negative public perception can cause individuals to defer seeking treatment and care options, making it difficult to get people the help they need to recover from their abuse issues.
Cases of substance abuse are more common than you think — 22 million people suffer in the United States. Whether it’s a family member, friend, co-worker, or child, the implications of substance abuse are felt by more than just the individual using drugs or alcohol.
Many organizations and nonprofits work tirelessly performing research, offering counseling and treatment options, and aiming to make policy changes regarding substance abuse.
When someone is experiencing substance abuse, it impacts every area of their life, both personally and professionally. Stopping the cycle of abusing drugs or alcohol is difficult by itself, but trying to do so while employed or caring for children adds another layer of hardship.
You may be wondering how substance abuse affects the economy. Before we dive into that topic, let’s define substance abuse, typical warning signs to look out for, and, lastly, solutions we can work toward for a drug-free future.
What Is Substance Abuse?
Simply put, substance abuse is excess use of any drug, including but not limited to, alcohol, pain medications, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs. Some of the most commonly abused substances are:
- Stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines)
- Hallucinogens (LSD)
This list does not include all substances that people will use regularly. When individuals feel that they cannot go on with their day without using one of these substances or experience withdrawal symptoms from a lack of use, it’s categorized as a substance abuse disorder.
People turn to drugs or alcohol for a variety of reasons. No single factor contributes to someone using drugs, but we can look at some possible causes, broken down into three categories:
- Biological: A person’s genetic makeup accounts for half of the risk associated with substance abuse. Gender, ethnicity, and other mental health disorders all play a role in influencing someone’s drug use.
- Environmental: The environment in which someone was raised plays a significant role in influencing them, whether it’s family, friends, or economic status.
- Developmental: It’s commonly known that the earlier drug use begins in someone’s development, the more likely that they will experience a substance abuse disorder.
Regardless of how a person gets involved with substances, the damage it can cause remains unchanged. Many people continue to use substances, despite having a job, and may show up impaired to work. Let’s talk about drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace and its implications.
Substance Abuse in the Workplace
A top concern for employers nationwide is having employees come into work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If workers are impaired, it can lead to significant decreases in productivity, increased risk of injury, problematic interactions with customers or clients, fighting and violence, and insubordination. These factors can reduce revenue for a company, which is another reason employers prioritize this concern.
It’s essential to understand that many people with substance abuse disorders are employed. Back in 2013, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 70% of drug or alcohol users in the country that were 18 or older were employed either full-time or part-time. The number is staggering and forces employers to address this issue regardless of the industry they serve.
Considering how common substance abuse is, we must look at the economic impact as a result.
On an annual basis, industry costs for substance abuse are estimated at over $100 billion. The majority of this cost comes directly from reduced productivity in the workplace and lost employment. Some charges are incurred from medical treatment and the price of recovery programs.
Losses are mainly attributed to:
- Reduced quality/quantity of work
- Absences and sick days
- Premature retirement
- Injuries on the job
- Workers’ Compensation claims
- Health insurance claims
If an employee’s substance abuse goes untreated, it can cost the economy anywhere between $2,600 and $13,000 per employee. When employers spend more resources on treatment programs and health costs, there’s less room for them to spend in other areas of their business.
If substances are widespread, it likely becomes an issue of public safety. Reducing crime and illegal selling of drugs is a priority for public law enforcement. Like supply and demand, if more substance abuse goes on, more resources are needed to try and stop the epidemic.
Take the War on Drugs campaign, for example. There was and still is pressure on the federal government to reduce illegal drug sales, and policies were put in place to try to control substances on the street. Some have argued there should be harsher laws for DUIs, as well.
It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol are risky substances, and if used incorrectly, they can cause damage to the individual user as well as anyone in their environment. The dangers of driving under the influence and potentially injuring or killing others due to impairment is a major public safety issue. More resources will be spent working to find solutions, which is another economic consequence of substance use.
Solutions to Workplace Substance Abuse
Because of the scale of this issue, it’s challenging to find appropriate solutions to substance abuse, especially in the workplace. Many companies across the nation already use prevention programs, training, and mandated drug tests.
Substance abuse has serious economic consequences, which is one reason why employers will offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). There is a wide array of benefits provided by EAPS, whether it’s professional counseling for employees or allowing employees to call hotlines in times of need.
Implementing education programs is a possible solution to this problem, but measuring how effective they are may present challenges. How can we know for sure if these programs prevent or mitigate the issue of substance abuse?
Understanding addiction as a disorder and not a personality trait of an individual is crucial when approaching solutions. More scientific research is needed to help experts identify ways to prevent addiction from taking hold of someone’s life.
Groups like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offer resources for those experiencing substance abuse. Both organizations focus on research to understand the nuances of substance abuse and what can be done to prevent it from occurring.
Putting an End to Substance Abuse
In the U.S., it’s common to know someone who is being negatively impacted by drugs or alcohol. Addiction cannot be taken lightly, especially if you’re employing and working with people suffering from a substance abuse disorder. Various institutions and industries must work together toward putting an end to this epidemic.
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