An employee’s use of drugs (including alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drug misuse) can be a serious problem for an employer, let alone the employee. Employers shouldn’t ignore alcohol and drug misuse in the workforce – but often, they do. In this article, we look at why employers sometimes struggle to provide meaningful and timely support to employees with addiction problems. There are also suggestions for employers about how to create an effective drug and alcohol policy.
Challenges Employers Face with Providing Alcohol and Drug Addiction Help
In many industries, a drinking culture exists within work and is still seen as ‘how business gets done.’ This is particularly the case in insurance, finance, stockbroking, trading, advertisting/ media, entertainment/ arts, and even many Government and civil service roles. In many of these industries, behaviour is modelled on a top-down approach. In the last study on adult drinking habits in Great Britain, researchers found amongst adults who earned £40,000+, almost four in five (78.9%) said they drank in the previous week. One in five said they drank on four out of five days.
It is also not unusual for drinking to be associated with cocaine use. Research has indicated that three times as much cocaine is used in London on a daily basis than in Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona combined. London’s annual cocaine use now equates to more than eight tonnes.
However, some big companies like Lloyds have tried to turn the tide. In 2017, Lloyds circulated a memo to its 800 London staff banning them from drinking any alcohol between 9am and 5pm in the working week. The memo went on to say that any employee who does not adhere to this new rule would face gross misconduct procedures, which could result in dismissal. Another reason for the rule was that roughly half of their grievance and disciplinary procedures revolved around alcohol abuse. However, very few other companies appear to have followed the same course as Lloyds.
Workplace boozing: is there an issue?
Lack of training and skills in providing alcohol and drug addiction help
Another reason why employers don’t address drug and alcohol misuse is that many don’t know how to spot the early signs of an alcohol or drug problem. Even if they do spot signs of addiction, often they are not sure what to say or do. This is a huge problem, as alcohol and drugs have a very negative effect on the brain and body. At the very least, people will experience impaired judgment, concentration and productivity at work. At worst, there are serious or even life-threatening health and safety concerns (not least the employee’s own mental health and wellbeing, but also impacts on colleagues). Problematic drink and drug use is usually an escalating issue. It does not go away on its own, and in most cases it gets worse over time. Employees who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to take time off work, display poor performance, cause reputational damage, and increase the risk of accidents. No organisation wants this, which is why a proactive approach is needed.
Some industries are trying to do something about this. Thanks to the support of The BRIT Trust, TPG, Backup, Massive Attack, Hipgnosis Songs, We Need Crew, and Rock-it Cargo, the charity Music Support have a number of free places to anyone working in any area of music and/or live events who is interested in understanding more about addiction, recovery and helping others with addiction. For more information and to apply, please visit The Music Support page.
Help Me Stop also offers advice and training to employers in the London area, as well as low-cost treatment that can fit around an employee’s working week. If this is something that you feel your company or organisation could benefit from, please email email@example.com or contact us here for a chat.
The fact is that not addressing the drug and alcohol problem costs companies so much more in the long term. Approximately 17 million days are lost each year through drug and alcohol use, an estimated £7.3 billion in lost productivity. Just because it isn’t being measured by individual companies, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
In 2016, testing data indicated workforce drug positivity to be the highest in 12 years, with 43% of staff polled testing positive for substances since 2011. Almost half of those tested positive for cocaine, with 60% positive for cannabis and 66% positive for opiates.
Companies need to realise that 75% of illicit drug users are in jobs, and 17% of them use substances on any given day. Substance misuse is not just a problem for those who are unemployed.
Work-based stress, COVID and beyond
In recent years prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety had shown signs of increasing. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic the predominant cause of work depression or anxiety from the Labour Force Survey was workload, in particular tight deadlines, too much work or too much pressure or responsibility. Other factors identified included a lack of managerial support, organisational changes at work, violence and role uncertainty.
The impact of COVID has only made this worse with many employees turning to drink and drugs, including prescribed medication to cope. And just as we begin to emerge from COVID, then the worries of what is going on in Ukraine surface. All these environmental and societal tensions add to the mental health burden, which can spill over into excessive drinking or drug-taking.
20% increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020: the impact of the pandemic
Getting Organisational Drug and Alcohol Policy in Place
The question is where to start with all this? It is vital that companies have a drug and alcohol policy, which is communicated to all staff. Employers have a legal responsibility to look after employees’ wellbeing, health, and safety. ACAS has produced a helpful checklist on what should be included within a drug and alcohol policy:
- The purpose of the policy – for example: ‘This policy is designed to help protect workers from the dangers of drugs, alcohol and other substance misuse issues and to encourage those with a problem to seek help’;
- A statement that the policy applies to everyone in the organisation;
- The rules on the use of drugs, alcohol and other substances at work;
- A statement that the organisation recognises that a drug or alcohol problem may be an illness to be treated in the same way as any other illness;
- The potential dangers to the health and safety of drug and alchol misusers and their colleagues if a drug or alcohol problem is untreated;
- The importance of early identification and treatment;
- The help available – for example, from managers, supervisors, company doctor, occupational health service or outside agency;
- The disciplinary position – for example, an organisation may agree to suspend disciplinary action, where drug or alcohol misuse is a factor, on condition that the worker follows a suitable course of action;
- The provision of paid sick leave for agreed treatment;
- The individual’s right to return to the same job after effective treatment or, where this is not advisable, to suitable alternative employment wherever possible;
- An assurance of confidentiality;
- Whether an individual will be allowed a second period of treatment if he or she relapses;
- The provision for education on drug and alcohol misuse;
- A statement that the policy will be regularly reviewed, has the support of senoir management and that, where appropriate, worker representative have been consulted.
Point 6 in the above list is incredibly important. The cost of dismissal, recruitment, and re-training in many cases far outweighs investing in the recovery of a valued employee. Problematic drug and alcohol use is a subject as complex as it is varied. Help Me Stop deals with this barrier to successful treatment by employing specialist addiction therapists who have experienced their own journeys of addiction and long-term recovery. This helps to ground their professional experience and qualifications in an intimate knowledge of just what it feels like to go through a personal battle with substance misuse. Furthermore, as general therapists in their own right, they are also trained to treat a variety of other conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression alongside the problematic drug and alcohol use.
Help for Employees with Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Help Me Stop programmes are designed to fit around people’s work and family commitments.
- We offer face-to-face Dayhab, which can fit with flexible working arrangements, or with a short period of time off work (4-6 weeks).
- We also launched our Online Rehab in 2020, as a response to the pandemic. To engage with us, clients need to commit to our morning or evening programme, meaning that most work schedules can still be maintained. Our Online Rehab is accessible to anyone with a computer and wifi, so geographical location isn’t a barrier.
- Call +44 (0)208 191 9191 or contact us here for a no-obligation chat about affordable addiction treatment.