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What Stops HR Professionals From Addressing Substance Abuse in Their Workplace?

Thursday, March 12, 2015   (0 Comments)
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HR Professional Addressing Substance Abuse

Fear, lack of knowledge on the subject, limited time and not knowing what resources are available are all among the various reasons that HR professionals do not address substance abuse in their workplace. How can these concerns be addressed?

What causes fear? Most of us fear what we do not understand. Fear is a natural human response which may cause avoidance. Sometimes fear emerges from our own experience. For instance, growing up in a home with a parent who struggled with alcohol may cause one to respond by being overly sensitive to this issue as an adult. We may avoid conversations or recognition of substance abuse to avoid negative feelings and hurt from our past. Being armed with knowledge about the disease of addiction can begin to break down fear and create self-awareness, leading to the opportunity to help someone with this issue. Self-awareness is often the key to understanding which leads us to the knowledge we need to take control of what we fear.

How does limited time impact our actions? We all have constant demands in the workday and juggle too many priorities. However, not addressing substance abuse in our workplaces will only add to the time drain felt already. It is very costly in both time and money to focus on an incident related to substance abuse, such as an accident, lowered productivity and absenteeism. It is much more cost effective to take the time to be educated on the subject, create pro-active policies allowing workers to come forth when they need help with addictions and allow for treatment and recovery, which in turn allows for a healthier workplace. When adding up the cost of untreated substance abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states:

In 2011, about 9.8 million full-time U.S. workers — 18 and older — either abused or were addicted to drugs or alcohol in the previous 12 months, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Furthermore, substance abuse is among the most costly health problems in the United States. Among national estimates of the costs of illness for 33 diseases and conditions, alcohol ranked second, tobacco ranked sixth, and drug disorders ranked seventh (National Institutes of Health [NIH], 2000).

2010 2011
Number of affected workers % of workforce Number of affected workers % of workforce
Full-time workers 10.2 million 8.9% 9.8 million 8.4%
Part-time workers 3.6 million 11% 3.2 million 9.8%
Unemployed  2.3 million 15.8% 2 million  14.8%
Other 4.3 million  6.4%  3.9 million 5.5%

Source: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Note: Data is for Americans 18 and older

As you can see substance abuse in the workplace needs our time and attention. Otherwise, we will miss the employee who is self-medicating or returning to work after surgery on pain medication, either of which can grow into a costly addiction. Recognizing substance abuse in the workplace alone is a wellness issue which cannot be overlooked.

What resources are available? There are options for assessment and treatment in most communities. At Fairbanks, there is a great deal of expertise just a phone call away. Fairbanks offers online inquiries as well at Lunch and learns on substance abuse and professional education for managers and supervisors are two of the options to learn more about this topic. SAMHSA offers a treatment locator guide. Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may also offer resources. Take time to find education, treatment and recovery resources for your employees to find the help they need. It will come back to you in both hidden and direct costs repeatedly and ensure a safer, more productive and well workforce.  

About the Author

Susan Day - Fairbanks

Susan Day is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and a Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor (LCAC) in the State of Indiana. She is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Social Work for both her bachelors and masters programs.

Susan is the Regional Relationship Manager at Fairbanks overseeing educational and business development opportunities related to Fairbanks, La Verna Lodge and Hope Academy. She has been employed at Fairbanks for over 13 years. She has practiced in both mental health and healthcare for over 25 years in roles such as an EAP and private practice therapist, medical social worker and discharge planner and has held clinical, leadership and management roles in these varied settings.

Susan is a torchbearer for the United Way, and volunteers at school, church and community events frequently. She is the secretray of the Board of the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board of Use what you Got Prison Ministry. She serves on the Indiana State Task Force for Prescription Drug Abuse, and serves on the Human Services Department Curriculum Advisory Committee for Ivy Tech.

Susan is an also an adjunct professor for Ivy Tech – Indianapolis campus, teaching in the Human Services Department for students working toward an associate degree or bachelors in a helping profession.

Susan Day, MSW, LCSW, LCAC
Regional Relationship Manager
8102 Clearvista Parkway
Indianapolis, IN 46256