Survey, analysis reveal the full cost of employees addicted to alcohol, painkillers and other drugs

March 24, 2017

FRIDAY, March 24, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Substance abuse exacts a heavy toll on the American workplace, a new analysis shows.

Employees who struggle with drinking and drug addiction miss many more days of work, have higher health care costs and are less productive than those without these disorders, researchers report.

An analysis revealed that employees with substance use disorders miss nearly 50 percent more work days than their colleagues, and up to six weeks of work a year, according to the National Safety Council, NORC at the University of Chicago and Shatterproof. Shatterproof is a national nonprofit that works to end the devastation that addiction causes families.

However, a companion survey from the council found that while 71 percent of employers reported issues with worker prescription drug use, only 39 percent consider it a safety threat and only 24 percent believe it's a problem.

"Businesses that do not address the prescription drug crisis are like ostriches sticking their heads in the sand," said council president and CEO Deborah Hersman.

"The problem exists, and doing nothing will harm your employees and your business," she added in a council news release.

The analysis and survey also found that: construction, entertainment, recreation and food service businesses have twice the national average number of workers with substance use disorders; business sectors with large numbers of women or older adult workers have a two-thirds lower rate of substance abuse; and business sectors with higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also have more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders.

The cost of an untreated substance use disorder ranges from $2,600 per employee working in agriculture to more than $13,000 per employee in the information and communications sector.

Health care costs for workers who misuse or abuse prescription drugs are three times higher than for other workers.

Workers in recovery from substance abuse have lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss work days, less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer doctor visits.

Among employers, far fewer were concerned about prescription drug abuse (67 percent) or illegal drug sales (61 percent) than about the costs of benefits (95 percent), the ability to hire qualified workers (93 percent) and the costs of worker's compensation (84 percent) -- even though drug misuse affects those three areas.

Getting a worker into substance abuse treatment can save an employer as much as $2,607 a year, and workers are more likely to undergo treatment if it is initiated by an employer, the researchers added.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about substance abuse.

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