The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimate that approximately $81 billion dollars is the cost of working under the influence. This cost is to employers due to the continued use of alcohol and/or drugs. There are many factors at play with how this impacts the safety of the individual and fellow co-workers. This includes:
- After-effects of substance use (withdrawal) affecting an individuals job performance
- Preoccupation with obtaining and using substances while at work, interfering with attention and concentration.
- Illegal activities at work including selling illegal drugs to other employees
- Psychological or stress-related effects due to drug use by a family member, friend or fellow co-worker that affects another person’s job performance.
In addition to this, the NCADD, through affiliates like Employee Assistant Programs, reports that approximately 70% of an estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are currently employed. The warning signs of an individual working under the influence are categorized under Job Performance and Workplace behavior
- Inconsistent work quality
- Poor concentration and lack of focus
- Lowered productivity or erratic work patterns
- Increased absenteeism or on the job “presenteeism”
- Unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
- Carelessness, mistakes or errors in judgment
- Needless risk taking
- Disregard for safety for self and others – on the job and off the job accidents
- Extended lunch periods and early departures
Regarding workplace behavior:
- Frequent financial problems
- Avoidance of friends and colleagues
- Blaming others for own problems and shortcomings
- Complaints about problems at home
- Deterioration in personal appearance or personal hygiene
- Complaints, excuses and time off for vaguely defined illnesses or family problems
The top drugs of choice by those employed nationwide are: Alcohol, Marijuana, Prescription medications, heroin, cocaine and Meth amphetamines. Marijuana being the most commonly abused drug of choice, second to that of Alcohol. This is due to the societal attitude changes toward marijuana. These social attitudes include the increase medicinal use of marijuana.
With approximately 22 states allowing the medicinal use of medical Marijuana, and two states allowing the recreational use of marijuana (Washington and Colorado), leaders of ACOEM and AAOHN say that occupational health profession can play an integral role in helping the U.S. workplace prepare for the potential impacts this social trend is creating.
EHSToday writer, Sandy Smith, quotes President Pam Carter RN of AAOHN as: “With growing advocacy, other states seem ready to follow. Mainly because of such rapid change, both of our associations believe it is time to address workplace health and safety concerns when workers have impaired functioning from this and other drugs.”
Regardless of the social change in marijuana use, there is still a high cost to employers, employees and their family members. This ranges from an individuals loss of productivity within the workplace, absenteeisms due to the use and recovery (Withdrawal) from use of alcohol and/or drugs, workplace injuries and fatalities, theft and low employee morale, to an increase in health care costs, legal liabilities and workers’ compensation costs.
The question is: where is this collaboration between AAOHN and ACOEM leading to? The answer is looking at the nature of current marijuana use in the workplace and the current scientific understanding that relates to the use of marijuana. This collaboration hopes to lead toward a more practical understanding and determination that is evidenced-based to where employers offer adequate education and recommendations for support to those who work in the occupational and environmental health profession; as well as consultation with employers regarding workplace health policies centered around the continued use of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs.
These recommendations include a more improved employee assistance programs that provide employees referrals to local area agencies that work with substance use related disorders, mental health related disorders, and to proactive address substance use and the workplace. This may include seeking out an evaluation with a state certified agency, follow through with treatment recommendations and monthly monitoring of treatment compliance, and provisional educational and information regarding the hazards of substance use within the workplace.
In fact, most clients currently engaged in treatment typically report that their own work productivity increase after approximately 2-3 months of engagement in a therapeutic treatment program for substance use disorders. These clients report that this increase in their own productivity at work centers around the aspect of becoming more aware of their surroundings, ability to wake up and not have to work through a hangover or withdrawal symptoms associated with abstaining from the use of substances while at work, and the ability to manage their own stress in healthier ways. Much of this is attributed to the focus of understanding how to develop a more heightened awareness of a lifestyle change while engaged in treatment and their own recovery process.
Therefore, while it is more tempting to work while under the influence of alcohol and or drugs than it is to eat a cinnabon, the reality is that it not only costs the individual employee, but also the employer and the employee’s family members. Only a more practical awareness of working under the influence and the safety hazards associated with it may prevent the next workplace injury or fatality.