Addictions Are Rising Among Workers; What Employers Can Do

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10% of America’s workers are dependent on one substance or another.

The nation is still battling the biggest drug scourge: opioid and fentanyl. Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that in 2023 there were an estimated 107,543 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., 81,083 of which were opioid-related. While those are shocking statistics, the majority of addicts are hooked on other drugs or alcohol, and that includes millions of American workers.

A study by the American Addiction Center found that 22.5% of respondents admitted to using drugs or alcohol during work hours. The most common substance used during working hours is cannabis.

Those who work from home at least part of the time are more likely overall to abuse drugs or alcohol than those who work in offices. Overall, people who work from home part-time or full-time are about 10% more likely than people who work full-time in offices to get drunk at work.

As an employer, the costs are great if you have someone on staff who has a substance-abuse problem. Workers with addictions to drugs are alcohol have:

  • Lower or lack of workplace productivity;
  • Higher health care costs;
  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism;
  • Diminished quality control;
  • More disability claims;
  • Increased workplace injuries;
  • Lower morale;
  • Higher job turnover; and
  • Employee theft.

How Your Health Plan Can Help

If you have an Affordable Care Act-compliant health plan, it will offer access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, which is considered one of 10 essential benefits plans must offer.

The ACA requires health plans to pay for prevention and early intervention as well for substance abuse issues. 

Health care plans also have to comply with a “parity” law, which requires them to treat mental health issues the same way they do physical diseases. Since the COVID-19 pandemic demand for mental health services has soared, straining both providers of those services and the health plans.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2024 also started requiring all ACA-compliant health plans to contract with at least one substance use disorder treatment center and one mental health facility in every county where they are available in the plan’s service area.

What Else Can You Do?

Some employers have tried to help employees tackle their addictions or abuse problems by implementing workplace prevention, wellness and disease-management strategies. These programs improve health, which lowers health care costs and insurance premiums and produces a healthier, more productive workforce.

Considering offering an employee assistance program. These programs offer temporary free access (typically a set amount of sessions) to a number of services like counseling as well as substance abuse assistance. These sessions are confidential and the employer will not know if an employee is accessing them.

Consider offering more accessible substance use management solutions, like digital and telehealth-based solutions. There are a growing number of these types of service providers, which make accessing counselors more convenient and cost-effective.

Offer confidential screenings and assessments. There are a number of screening, brief-intervention and referral-to-treatment modules available to help people confront their drinking or drug use and get the help they need. 

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