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We live in a society where there are a lot of things that an individual can become addicted to and the topic of substance abuse within the workplace is particularly interesting because it is an obvious threat to many workplaces across the country. Additionally the effects of these addictive behaviors have caused many companies to report lost wages, reduced production, and cost families of those that partake in such behaviors to experience financial and stability issues.
So what is classified as an addiction? In simple terms an addiction can be developed when the same chemical process that rewards us for using mind altering substances are present when we feel the rewards for winning or losing in the casino or doing any number of different types of activities that alter the way an individual feels. Theoretically an individual can become addicted to just about any kind of activity that provides an emotional rush that rewards them for performing that activity.
Unfortunately, as an addiction progresses, individuals begin to experience nothing more than a sense of comfort. However, if done long enough, this level of comfort becomes so powerful that the addict feels as if they need to indulge themselves, even within the workplace. Therefore placing everything they have worked so hard to achieve within their career and personal life to be jeopardized. Not to mention the devastation created by those addictive behaviors and the potential of jeopardizing the lives and careers of those around them. Fortunately, no matter how unrelenting and damaging an addiction may become, it is possible to overcome it. While some addictions may not be as easy to overcome as others, there is assistance available for any kind of an addiction.
Even though substance abuse within many communities is somewhat obvious, you have to stop and consider that many of those individuals that abuse these substances, even at harmful levels, are employed. This leaves many people believing that the level of drug use within the community can be a sign of the amount of drug-use within the workplace. While the workplace can represent a broader prospective of the community, it is the responses to substance abuse within the community that may prove useful when considering ways of dealing with the problem in the workplace.
First of all what is considered substance abuse within the corporate environment? Many organizations large and small, believe substance abuse is defined as the use of any substance by a working individual, either on or off the site that can have impending workplace effects. This means the amount of substance usage in and around the workplace has become an important issue for employees and employers, because it is a major contributing factor in most accidents.
There really is no limit to what kinds of things can become addicting, take alcoholism for instance, while there is no question that excessive consumption of alcohol is a devastating illness. Additionally, the effects of alcoholism can extend from the user to their family and careers; it can also have dire effects on other innocent people as is with the case of drunk drivers. In reference to careers, excessive alcohol consumption can hinder one's ability to make accurate decisions therefore jeopardizing the safety of others within the workplace.
Although many companies experience major losses in revenues, it is said that within the United States those totals can reach billions of dollars in loses each year due to substance abuse by employees. Still some individuals choose to use substances such as alcohol and illicit drugs; while others may choose to misuse prescription drugs in an effort to function in the workplace. Therefore, knowing that the workplace requires attentiveness along with precise and quick reflexes, many employees may feel that they need a drug or substance to be observant and focused. While some substances may aid in one's ability to focus, if the substance is abused, the employee will suffer from impairments that can hinder operations and potentially cause injury to others. Furthermore, substance abuse can cause other issues at work, which includes absenteeism because of the fixation with obtaining and using substances. Substance abuse can also lead to the user engaging in illegal activities at work such as selling illegal drugs to others in the workplace.
Despite the fact that some believe alcoholism is a disease that takes hold of a person and requires them to struggle in order to maintain control, it isn't the only way of thinking. There are still those that consider alcohol abuse is a choice and believe that the impaired decision making, motor skills, as well as ones ability to operate simple equipment are all choices in which the user has control over. While this is only speculation, it does bring out some good points. Either way, in most cases especially in the workplace, it is just speculation.
While it is a known fact that the hard-core substance abuser is damaging to the workplace, it is alcohol abuse that normally causes the most harm due to its availability. Take the social drinker for instance and the loss of productivity in the workplace due to the effects of alcohol. Although, it is not uncommon for employees to having a drink during the work day, such as during a lunch break or client meeting before returning to work and possibly displaying offensive behaviors. Not only does an alcohol problem cloud a person's judgment but employees are more likely to injure themselves or another person in the work environment.
However, there are many different steps that can be taken as a way to prevent substance abuse within the workplace and gain back the productivity. First of all, organizations worldwide have taken the appropriate steps in adopting workplace substance abuse policies in an attempt to reduce the loss of productivity and provide safer work environments. While establishing these programs can drastically reduce absenteeism, injuries and mistakes, they can also reduce many other problems when an effective program is in place. While there is no guaranteed program for substance abuse, it can be just a matter of finding what is right is right for each company. For example, many companies may choose to structure a program that fits the needs and circumstances of their organization, by simply developing a written policy statement which in many cases requires supervisor training, employee education and awareness, employee assistance for providing help or last but not least drug and alcohol testing.
In relation to train it is important for supervisors to understand the company's substance abuse policy and procedures, which provides aid in identifying employees with problems, and how to refer employees for assistance so that any personal problems that may be affecting performance can be addressed. Another important aspect is to educate employees about the company's substance abuse program. Depending on its size, the company may wish to develop their own assistance program or seek help from outside the organization to provide help and support to those employees who need it. Typically, assistance programs are designed to provide free, confidential short-term counseling with a variety of job related and personal problems.
Sometimes just by having a policy of drug testing a company can reduce substance abuse problems. But drug testing is not allowed in every state and a complete drug testing package may cost between $40 and $100. Therefore, employee drug testing is not a feasible option for every company, and there is some evidence that drug testing is not worth the $1.2 billion per year price tag on testing services in the U.S.
Alternatives to Testing
If you are in a state with tough drug-testing laws or have a smaller company, you may want to leave drug-testing to the larger companies and establish a strong discipline policy, instead.
In fact, some proponents such as The Smart Business Supersite believe that a strong discipline may be better than drug testing, unless performance and productivity in the workplace is significantly impaired because of drug and alcohol abuse.
If an on-duty employee is suspected to be under the influence, don't send the employee to the doctor to be tested. In the absence of a formal drug testing program, you may be breaking the law. Remove the employee from the workplace. Suspension allows you time to think clearly before making a hasty decision. Suspension protects the employee from a work-related injury... it protects other employees, and it protects the company from a workers' compensation claim, according to Smart Business.
Develop a Drug-free Workplace
By Susan M. Heathfield, About.com Guide
the employer has taken steps and initiated policies to ensure that employees, vendors, and customers are not:
taking or using alcohol or drugs,
selling drugs, or
affected by the after effects of indulging in alcohol or drugs outside of the workplace during non-work time.
Additionally, the goal of a drug-free workplace program, as they have traditionally been developed, is to encourage an employee with a substance abuse problem to seek treatment, recover, and return to work.
Sobriety programs were initiated as early as 1914 by the Ford Motor Company and have taken many shapes and forms over the years. The concept of a drug-free workplace began when Ronald Reagan signed into law Executive Order 12564 that banned the use of drugs both on and off duty for federal employees. This resulted in the Drug-free Workplace Act of 1988.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Drug-Free Workplace Programs, "Today, the concept of a 'Drug-Free Workplace' has become the norm with large and medium size employers. Efforts are continually made by Federal, State, and civic and community organizations to bring the Drug-Free Workplace experience to a greater percentage of smaller employers."
As you consider whether a drug-free workplace program is appropriate and needed in your workplace, these are the reasons for having a drug-free workplace program. I have also included the main reason why employees object to a drug-free workplace program. Finally, I have listed the components of a successful drug-free workplace program.
Why Establish a Drug-free Workplace Program?
You will want to consider setting up a drug-free workplace program for these reasons.
You value the health and safety of all of your employees. You are concerned that any employee who may be working under the influence of alcohol or drugs could injure himself or another employee.
You are concerned about the impact of unhealthy lifestyle choices on medical and insurance costs for your business.
You believe that alcohol or drug impairment impacts all aspects of an employee's life negatively. These negative impacts, such as broken families, cannot help but flow over into the workplace and manifest as absenteeism, lower productivity, and damaged relationships.
You believe that the productivity of any worker who is impaired at work is negatively impacted.
For some industries and jobs drug-free workplace programs are mandated.
In some industries, especially when products are easily stolen and sold, substance abusers may account for a large portion of product loss.
Finally, you want to send a powerful message to all employees about behavior that is and is not supported at work. Your non-abusing employees deserve this support.
What Constitutes a Comprehensive Drug-free Workplace Program?
An effective drug-free workplace program shares the characteristics that most effective workplace initiatives share. Workplace efforts that yield results provide:
Active, visible leadership and support by the managers and other company leaders;
Clearly written policies and procedures that are publicized, trained, and uniformly applied to all employees; with well-trained managers, supervisors, union representatives, and Human Resources staff who understand their roles, rights, and responsibilities;
Involvement from a cross-section of employees from across the company and union involvement, in a represented workplace, in the development of the policy and program;
Additional training for employees in the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse;
Methods of assistance for employees who voluntarily admit they have a substance abuse problem;
Access to substance abuse treatment and follow-up for employees who have been identified as having problems;
Clearly stated policies about the disciplinary action that will be taken if an employee, with a problem that is impacting the workplace or whose actions are in violation of the workplace policies, fails to obtain help; and
Ways to identify people with alcohol, drug, or other substance abuse problems, including drug testing. The goal of a drug free workplace program is to provide the opportunity for the employee to obtain treatment, overcome their substance abuse issues, and return to work.
With some attention to these measures, you can establish and promote a healthy, drug-free workplace for all of your employees.
Downside to a Drug-free Workplace Program
The major downside to a drug-free workplace program is that employees object to the random drug testing component that is present in most programs. Employers who choose to execute the drug testing component need to be sensitive to the fact that most employees regard drug testing as intrusive and evidence of a lack of employer trust.
Opponents of drug testing believe that non-substance abusers are subjected to ill-treatment because of the actions of a few employees.
Employees may feel their privacy is being invaded and that what they do outside of work is not their employer's business.
Failing a drug test does not mean that the employee was impaired at work, just that they used a substance within the time parameters that the test checked. Again, the use could have had no impact on their work performance whatsoever.
Employees fear that the off-work use of drugs or alcohol may bring the same consequences to an employee as would be applied to an employee who abused substances on the job.
Opponents to drug testing believe that while there are Federal regulations for drug testing, there are hundreds of state and local jurisdictions that do not regulate or oversee the methods employers use for drug testing.
Consequently, if you do make random drug testing a part of your drug-free workplace program, make sure you treat your employees with dignity and respect, and honor their privacy. The drug testing policy should specify the type of drug testing used, the frequency of the drug testing, and the names of the substances for which the employee will be tested. The drug testing policy should provide fair and consistent methods for employee selection for drug testing.
WHY WORRY ABOUT DRUGS AND ALCOHOL IN THE WORKPLACE?
Because the worker next to you may be drunk, high, or hungover.
More than 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs; one worker in four, ages 18 to 34, used drugs in the past year; and one worker in three knows of drug sales in the workplace.
Americans consume 60 percent of the world's production of illegal drugs: 23 million use marijuana at least four times a week; 18 million abuse alcohol; 6 million regularly use cocaine; and 2 million use heroin.
In the workplace, the problems of these substance abusers become your problems. They increase risk of accident, lower productivity, raise insurance costs, and reduce profits. They can cost you your job; they can cost you your life.
What is Substance Abuse?
Men and women dependent on heroin, cocaine, or crack-who must have these potent drugs to get through the day-are clearly substance abusers. And drug dependency takes more than one form. You need not be physically addicted (and suffer painful bodily symptoms of withdrawal when denied your drug of choice) to be drug dependent. Psychological dependency is equally responsible for compulsive drug use.
But substance abuse covers a range of behavior that goes far beyond dependency. Abuse may involve regular marijuana use, heavy drinking, weekend binges, casual consumption of tranquilizers, or misuse of other prescription drugs. It includes any use of drugs or alcohol that threatens physical or mental health, inhibits responsible personal relationships, or diminishes the ability to meet family, social, or vocational obligations.
Does it Threaten Jobs?
Substance abusers don't have to indulge on the job to have a negative impact on the work- place. Compared to their non- abusing coworkers, they are:
Ten times more likely to miss work
3.6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents (and 5 times more likely to injure themselves or another in the process)
Five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim
33% less productive
Responsible for health care costs that are three times as high.
Operating machinery under the influence of alcohol or drugs is clearly high-risk. But danger also increases when reflexes or judgment are compromised to any degree by drugs or alcohol. And substance abusers are not only five times more likely than other workers to cause injuries; they are also responsible for 40 percent of all industrial fatalities.
Working at minimal capacity, these workers increase the workloads of others, lower productivity, compromise product quality, and can tarnish a company's image. Their absences and health care demands raise costs. They reduce competitiveness and profitability, weakening the companies that employ them and threatening everyone's job security.
What are the Signs of Abuse?
Substance abusers in the workplace can be difficult to identify. But there are some clues that signal possible drug and alcohol problems.
Here's what to look for:
Frequent, prolonged, and often unexplained absences
Involvement in accidents both on and off the job
Erratic work patterns and reduced productivity
Indifference to personal hygiene
Overreaction to real or imagined criticism
Such overt physical signs as exhaustion or hyperactivity, dilated pupils, slurred speech, or an unsteady walk
Marijuana users may have bloodshot or glassy eyes and a persistent cough.
Cocaine users display increased energy and enthusiasm early in their drug involvement. Later they may be subject to extreme mood swings and can become paranoid or delusional.
Alcohol abusers find it hard to conceal morning-after hangovers. Their productivity declines, and they may show signs of physical deterioration.
How Can it Be Prevented?
A comprehensive drug-free workplace program may be the best means of preventing, detecting, and dealing with substance abusers.
Such a program generally includes the following elements:
A written policy that is supported by top management, understood by a all employees, consistently enforced, and perfectly clear about what is expected of employees and the consequences of policy violations
A substance abuse prevention program with an employee drug education component that focuses not only on the dangers of drug and alcohol use but also on the availability of counseling and treatment
Training of managers, front-line supervisors, human resource personnel, medical staff, and others in identifying and dealing with substance abusers
An appropriate drug and alcohol testing component, designed to prevent the hiring of workers who use illegal drugs and-as part of a comprehensive program-provide early identification and referral to treatment for employees with drug or alcohol problems
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employee Assistance Programs that provide counseling for employees and their family members are structured to help workers with a wide range of problems. Substance abuse is a primary concern.
Working with substance abusers, EAP professionals seek to provide whatever assistance makes it possible for employees to remain on or return to the job. Many companies offer counseling and treatment services or refer employees to services in the community. It is sometimes necessary for workers to take time off for treatment. In these cases, successful completion of a rehabilitation program generally brings the former substance abusers back to the workforce.
What Can You Do?
Substance abusers in the workplace create a problem that affects you and should concern you. There are a number of ways in which you can do something about it.
Don't be an "enabler."
When you cover up for substance abusers, lend them money, or help conceal poor work performance, you are protecting them from the consequences of their behavior. You are making it possible for them to continue abusing drugs or alcohol. You may think you're being a friend, but you are doing them no favor.
Don't "look the other way."
If you suspect drugs are being used or being sold, you should pass the word to a supervisor or to security or human resources personnel. Such contacts are confidential and, in many organizations, this information can be conveyed anonymously.
Don't intervene on your own.
Drug abuse and drug dealing are serious problems that should be handled by qualified professionals.
Don't worry about jeopardizing a substance abuser's job.
Employees are often reluctant to let management know when they suspect drug activity, worried that any coworkers they identify will be penalized or even lose their jobs. The reality is that you place a co-worker in far greater jeopardy when you don't report your concern and, in that way, make continued drug use possible.
Bear in mind that the threat of being fired often provides a potent deterrent to substance abuse and will prompt many drug- and alcohol-troubled workers to accept help when they had previously ignored the pleas of family and friends. Faced with the possibility of losing their jobs, workers who had refused to recognize or acknowledge their substance abuse are often motivated to enter treatment and-what may be even more important-remain in treatment long enough to make fundamental changes in attitudes and behavior.