How to Stay Sober When Your Coworkers Aren’t
Addiction and The Workplace
By some estimates, up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be attributed to on-the-job alcohol consumption, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Additionally, 21 percent of American workers reported being injured or endangered, having to re-do work or cover for their co-worker or extending their working hours due to a co-worker’s drinking or drug use. Nearly 70 percent of an estimated 22.4 million adult users of illicit drugs are employed either part or full time. Approximately 76 percent of adult heavy drinkers and over 79 percent of adult binge drinkers are also employed part or full time. These percentages equate to approximately 76 million employed adults.
These statistics are daunting, especially if you have recently returned to work after attending a rehabilitation program or are beginning a new position. It is important that your LAP, EAP, or labor union representative understands the position you are currently in.
Industries with the Highest On-the-Job Drug and Alcohol Abuse
In a recent federal survey, 24 percent of American workers reported drinking during the work day at least once in the past year. The construction, food preparation and food service industries have the highest prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse that affects employee performance, and illegal and prescription drug abuse is also prevalent among auto mechanics, light truck drivers and laborers. However, any industry has its share of people who abuse drugs or alcohol while they’re working.
The High Cost to Employers
Substance abuse harms the body and impairs a person’s ability to think clearly and accurately. In a work environment, this can lead to poor decisions, some with deadly consequences. An estimated twenty percent of occupational fatalities were related to substance abuse, according to two independent studies.
Deadly or dangerous accidents are not the only risk posed by substance abuse on the job. The most significant problems experienced due to employee substance abuse include:
- Reduced productivity
- Lack of trustworthiness
- Negative impact on company’s reputation
- Missed deadlines
- Increased health care costs
- Unpredictable, defensive interpersonal relations
Reducing Workplace Substance Abuse
Because of the far-reaching impact of workplace drug abuse, many different tactics have been devised to combat the problem:
Testing employees for drug and alcohol has emerged as a prevalent strategy. Some argue this has had little or no effect in preventing substance abuse at the workplace. However, research does seem to indicate a correlation between such testing and reducing the incidences of occupational injuries. Although widespread, workplace drug testing continues to be controversial, particularly as it pertains to employee privacy.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
These programs are provided as a benefit to employees and offer short-term counseling and long-term referrals to those with emotional and behavioral concerns, including substance-use problems. Learn more about our EAP Program.
Many employers offer education programs that focus on substance use and misuse. Such programs often complement company EAPs and are designed to inform and warn employees about dangerous substance abuse behaviors. The programs also encourage those with existing substance-use problems to self-refer to the EAP.
Changing Social Norms
Certain organizational cultures such as bartending and restaurants may promote substance misuse by encouraging on-the-job drinking and tolerating spillover effects of alcohol or other drug use. Designing programs to change such cultures is inherently difficult, but evidence indicates managerial structures, along with health-promotion and wellness programming may influence these norms.
How to Address Addiction in the Workplace
Addressing your past or current addiction can be extremely hard for an individual. Many people do not know who to approach or what to talk about. We have compiled a bit of information to guide you:
Seek out HR or an Informed Manager
If your company has a human resources department, this is a good place to start. It is important that you are comfortable speaking to this person and can open up about where you stand with your addiction.
Then, jot down the topics you wish to cover in your meetings. Are you worried that you may not be able to make your support group meetings if you leave at 6:00, and are wondering if the company allows flexible work hours? Maybe you want to make sure it is acceptable to step out of the office in order to take calls from your sponsor. Think about all the little issues that may arise and go into the meeting prepared to discuss all of them.
Know Company Policy and Employee Rights
Make sure that you and your employer discuss the company policies and employee rights regarding addiction during your meeting. Although companies have no legal requirement to implement alcohol and drug policies or pay for treatment and aftercare of an employee suffering with addiction, employment protection laws do exist for those struggling with addiction.
Before meeting with your employer, ask for the employee handbook and go over it in depth. Come to the meeting with any questions you may have after looking through the handbook.
Have Specific Problems to Address
This meeting is about more than what your employer will expect of you, it is also about what you expect of them. Make your employer aware, for example, that company events which provide alcohol could be tricky for you to attend. Think of any other accommodations or triggers that they should be made aware of and be sure to come up with a plan if another co-worker is not sensitive to your specific needs.
Do Not Fear Judgment
Seeking help for handling your addiction is a very courageous thing to do. Do not hold back on what should be addressed – discussing your addiction and any accommodations you may require from your employer can make a more comfortable transition back into work after rehab. Contrary to what you may believe, a majority of recovering addicts often find support from their employer once they are made aware of the situation.
Tips for Staying Sober in the Workplace
Work environments in which drugs and alcohol are common can pose a serious relapse risk for people in recovery from a substance use disorder. Arming yourself ahead of time with strategies to resist using drugs or alcohol with co-workers is essential for maintaining long-term sobriety. Here are some ways you can stay sober and reduce your risk of relapse while you’re at work:
- Consider reporting offenders to management. Doing so could also reduce your—and their—risk of injury.
- If reporting your coworkers isn’t an option for you, make it clear to them that you’re in recovery and that you would appreciate it if they would keep any drug or alcohol use out of your sight.
- Talk to your support groupabout your specific challenges to get a variety of strategies for handling them.
- Every day before work, visualize how you will respond to the presence of drugs or alcohol at the work site.
- Strive to be mindful concerning your recovery during the workday so that any surprises won’t throw you off balance.