Today, I will discuss another issue you may face in the COVID-19 crisis, as employees return to work with FULL-BLOWN ADDICTION ISSUES.
Some of your employees had a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) before the crisis began–drinking heavily or misusing medication after work yet functioning the next day. But due to the crisis, they may have had more opportunity to drink, and/or more reasons to drink. Some employees will return to work going through withdrawal, or unable to make it through the day without strong urges to use or abuse a drug. Others working on the front lines may be isolated from family and friends with no where to go with their grief and trauma. As many in-person support groups were canceled or converted to online-only, maintaining sobriety can be even harder for someone who may have struggled before.
How Big Is the Problem?
Drug scope today: 53.2M Americans used illicit drugs last year. And, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (USDUH), more than 20M adults suffer from an active SUD in the United States.
Alcohol cost 2010: $249B. American Clinical and Climatological Association research estimates the costs of excess alcohol consumption at an astronomical figure. This included loss of workplace productivity (72% of the total cost), healthcare expenses for treating problems caused by excessive drinking (11%), criminal justice expenses (10%), and losses from motor vehicle crashes related to excessive alcohol use (5%).
And growing. While 1 in 10 U.S. workers struggle with SUDs today, those numbers are rising. For example, in March Oregon reported that they’ve seen the largest spike ever in DUIs since the COVID-19 crisis began. An increasing number of Americans have started taking medication for anxiety and insomnia since the pandemic began. Some of those people will become addicted to those medications.
How Can You Help Those with Addiction Issues in the Workplace?
1. Review relevant policies
As part of welcoming employees back to work, review your workplace policies. Include in your discussion any policies, rules, and programs you offer related to a drug and alcohol-free work place.
2. Mail out available resources
Consider sending a corporate letter to the home of each employee outlining how to seek
assistance for Substance Use Disorder for employees or family members. Why should these be mailed to the home? Because during the extended time some employees spent at home, their spouses or significant others had a front row seat to their consumption and potential problems. Include information in your mail such as how to–
- tap into your employee assistance program (EAP),
- gain access to health and wellness programs,
- contact local helplines,
- review employer-sponsored healthcare coverage for Substance Use Disorder, and
- access relevant, local community resources.
3. Conduct employee education on SUD
Educate your employees for two reasons. First, this promotes a Drug-Free Workplace. If an employee suspects a coworker or boss has a SUD, discovering and addressing it before anyone gets hurt is best. Second, I was a high functioning alcoholic for years yet still thought I drank “just like everyone else.” Had my coworkers and I known all of the symptoms of a SUD, I couldn’t have hidden in plain sight. As part of your education, discuss the use of prescription medications and employee responsibility to be fit for work.
4. Update your policies.
Have a policy in place to make management and self-referrals for assistance easy and non-punitive. Take away the stigma associated with raising one’s hand to ask for help. By helping employees win the fight against a Substance Use Disorder, you demonstrate compassion. And if the employee accepts help, you will likely gain a very loyal employee.
5. Partner with a trusted alcohol and drug treatment center
As a result of my addiction to alcohol and the death of my 18-year old daughter to a drug overdose, I studied the top treatment centers across the country. They are not all the same. Some will provide organizations with low-cost or no-cost employee training. Some will work with your organization as a “provider of choice” to care for your employees at a greatly reduced rate.
If you want to learn about the best treatment options available to you, I’d love to schedule a time to talk and point you in the right direction.
Are You Ready?
Leaders, are you ready to care for these employees who may return to work after they’ve been self-medicating during the crisis? Do you have policies and support in place to help them?
If you like this, please share it with someone you know who needs it.
(In a recent blog, I wrote about those struggling with MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, especially those who may return to work with a heightened sense of dread or concern.)