Why Employers Should Review Substance Abuse Policies

By KNOX FARMER, CADAS

Dear Employer,

I have worked here for the past five years and really love and need my job. I take pride in my work and feel that what I am doing matters. I have always been a social drinker, but since the recent passing of my mother, I have found myself drinking more and more over the past months.

Since the pandemic and lack of socialization, drinking has become my coping mechanism: it’s the first thing I do in the morning and I’ll continue until I go to bed. I have tried to stop this repetitive behavior, but it is becoming harder and harder to cut back.

On the days I report to work I am usually on my fourth cup of coffee. When we chat in the hallway, exchange greetings or sit in meetings I try not to sit anywhere near you or stand too close to you for fear of you smelling alcohol on my breath. By mid afternoon I am unable to concentrate and cannot wait to get home and have a drink.

Since my mother passed, I thought I could keep everything under control, but my alcohol consumption is taking over who I once was. I am terrified to ask for help or let anyone know that I might have a problem.

I have reviewed our benefits plan and noticed we do not offer any help for someone with this disease, and based on our company policy it looks like I would lose my job. The cost for treatment, however, is something that I cannot personally afford.

My research states that there are many employees that also struggle with a substance abuse issue. However, they too remain silent because their employer does not provide help, either in their benefit package or their company policy simply does not tolerate any evidence of a problem. So we work in silence for fear of losing our jobs, until we’re drug tested on suspicion or the disease debilitates our work performance and we are terminated without any help.

I am still that same awesome employee that you hired five years ago. I just hit a roadblock in life and need help.

Dear employer, if I felt I had a choice, I would come out of the shadows and gladly seek treatment but without it, I feel I have no choice but to remain impaired and hope no one finds out (until they do).

It's 6 a.m. and I am fixing myself a drink while getting ready for work. See you in our morning meeting.

All the Best,

A Struggling Employee


There is a real cost to any employer who does not genuinely and tactfully address the issue of substance abuse. Firing the employee because of a zero tolerance policy is harmful for both sides.

The National Safety Council states that a typical worker misses about two weeks annually for illnesses, injury or reasons other than vacation or holidays. Workers with a substance abuse disorder miss nearly 50% more days (average of nearly three weeks) than their peers. An employee with pain medication abuse issues misses nearly three times as many days from work (nearly six weeks).

As employers work to mitigate health care costs, benefits related to substance abuse treatment are often cut and replaced with a zero tolerance policy that leads to immediate termination for working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

We have also seen employers who address the problem head-on, and not only provide benefits for substance abuse but a clear road map on how an employee can regain their job and become that employee they once were. These companies understand the cost but also see the rewards of having an employee who is in recovery.

The Expense of Not Addressing Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Let’s say a business has 100 employees. Of those employees, about 65% will consume alcohol or prescription drugs in moderation or as directed without any problems.

Of those 65 employees, about 10% will develop a substance abuse problem.

That would equate to about 6.5 employees. 

The cost to the employer comes in the form of lost productivity from those individuals. This is subjective but can include absenteeism and sick time, less production while at work and more time spent obsessing about how to get more drugs rather than working.

One study also shows as much as 20% drop in production for non-impaired employees having to deal with employees under the influence while at work.

These productivity decreases aren't good, but typically the cost to hire, retrain and recoup lost production far exceeds the benefit of assisting someone with a substance abuse problem so they can recover and get back to their pre-addiction productivity level. 

How the Pandemic Will Affect Employees

Studies show that 1 in 7 Americans will succumb to addiction in their lifetime. Of these individuals, more than 70% of them will still be employed.

Over the past eight months, substance abuse has increased and continues to do so, considering the uncertainty and hardships people are facing during these times.

We are continuing to see an increase in the use of heroin and alcohol. National alcohol sales are up 54% per reporting from Nielson and alcohol internet sales are up 262% from 2019.

This is exacerbated by fear, stress, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and it reaches all individuals regardless of title, income, race or gender.

Employers, especially now, shouldn’t view addiction as merely something to cull out of their workplace, but as an opportunity to help someone through a road map they can follow with real, obtainable treatment.

How CADAS Can Help

CADAS offers Drug Free Workplace Training as well as employee drug screenings for employers. We provide a confidential assessment and seek to provide the help that individuals need to restore their life. We believe recovery is possible with effective treatment. For every employer, please know that your employee can get their life back. Visit cadas.org for more info. 

About CADAS

CADAS is the only substance abuse treatment facility that offers a full continuum of care from medical detox, residential treatment, outpatient services (IOP & MAT), halfway house living and sober living apartments. As a nonprofit we have been saving lives in and around the Chattanooga area for the past 56 years. We accept commercial insurance plans, private plans, TennCare and state grant funding for those who qualify. Questions? Contact Knox Famer 423.756.7644 ext. 194 or knox.farmer@cadas.org.