Substance Abuse in the Workplace: Detection, Prevention, and Treatment

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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Substance abuse in the workplace presents a significant challenge for employers, HR teams, and employees alike. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employees who abuse substances are 25 to 30 percent less productive and miss work three times more often than non-abusing employees, and 10 to 20 percent of those who die on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol. Understanding of signs and symptoms and what action steps employers can take is imperative. As experts in mental health and substance abuse treatment at The Encino Detox Center, we aim to shed light on this pressing issue and offer comprehensive strategies for tackling it effectively.


Understanding Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Definition and Scope: Substance abuse in the workplace refers to the misuse of legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication in a way that negatively impacts an individual’s performance and safety at work. This misuse not only endangers the user but also their colleagues and the overall business operation.

Statistics and Studies: Recent studies reveal that substance abuse in the workplace is not an isolated issue, affecting industries across the spectrum. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that substance abuse costs U.S. businesses roughly $81 billion annually in lost productivity, accidents, and health care costs.

Substance use and Misuse: It’s important to differentiate between casual or social use and substance misuse. While social use might involve an occasional drink at a company event, misuse is characterized by regular and excessive use that impairs cognitive and physical functions and affects work performance.

How does substance abuse affect mental health

Substance abuse profoundly impacts the mental health of employees, leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, and decreased job satisfaction. Employees struggling with substance abuse are more likely to have a higher rate of absenteeism and are at increased risk of workplace accidents.

Detection: Identifying Substance Abuse at Work

Signs of Drug Use at Work

Identifying substance abuse requires vigilance and understanding of its signs. These can range from physical symptoms like unexplained fatigue or weight loss to behavioral changes such as increased irritability, decreased productivity, or unexplained absences.  Common signs that are important to look for are:

  • Accidents on or off the job 
  • Frequent tardiness with “creative” excuses
  • Excessive use of sick leave and failure to provide Dr. Note
  • Unexplained absences from work
  • Lengthy solitary lunches
  • Visible use of eye drops 
  • Avoidance of supervisor 
  • Excuses for missing deadlines 
  • Poor personal hygiene or grooming
  • Unusual or quick weight loss or gain 
  • Reports or communicated suspicions from fellow employees
  • Strained relationships with co-workers
  • Mood swings, belligerent, argumentative or short-tempered, rude
  • Unusual and extreme talkativeness or paranoia, tremors, sleeping on the job
  • Self-reported financial problems, borrowing money requests advances

Reporting drug use at work anonymously

Creating a safe channel for employees to report substance abuse anonymously is crucial. This can be done through an anonymous hotline or a third-party reporting system, ensuring that employees feel safe and supported when raising concerns.

Prevention Strategies

A proactive approach to preventing substance abuse involves creating a supportive workplace culture. Regular training sessions on substance abuse awareness, clear substance abuse policies, and employee assistance programs (EAPs) are effective strategies.


Psychological Support as Part of Employee Benefits

Incorporating mental health support into employee benefits can significantly help in preventing substance abuse. Offering services like counseling, stress management programs, and access to mental health resources can create a healthier work environment.

Treatment and Support for Affected Employees

Effective treatment for substance abuse may include a combination of medical intervention, counseling, and support groups. Employers can support affected employees by providing access to treatment programs and adopting a supportive approach to their recovery process.

Professions With the Highest Rates of Substance Abuse

According the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report the industries with the highest rates of past-month heavy alcohol use were:

  • Mining: 17.5%
  • Construction: 16.5%
  • Accommodations and food service industry: 11.8%
  • Art, entertainment, and recreational fields: 11.5%
  • Utilities industry: 10.3%

The industries with the highest levels of illicit drug use in the month prior to the survey were:

  • Accommodations and food service: 19.1%
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 13.7%
  • Management: 12.1%
  • Information: 11.7%
  • Construction: 11.6%

Drug and Alcohol Dependence Reports

  1. Highlights for the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report: The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) was conducted using a combination of in-person and online surveys. The results from this survey are not directly comparable with those from 2020 or earlier years due to differences in data collection methods. However, comparisons can generally be made between the 2021 and 2022 surveys. The key findings presented here are specifically from the 2022 NSDUH.
  1. California 2022 Uniform Reporting System Mental Health Data Results Report: State Mental Health Agencies (SMHAs) report annual data to SAMHSA, forming the Uniform Reporting System (URS). The 2022 URS includes data from 59 states and U.S. territories, summarizing key aspects like demographics, treatment outcomes, and readmission rates of SMHA clients. Main findings are outlined below.


Tackling substance abuse in the workplace requires a multifaceted approach. By understanding the issue, recognizing the signs, and implementing effective prevention and treatment strategies, employers can create a safer and more productive work environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Substance abuse in the workplace is a complex issue with wide-ranging impacts.
  • Early detection and intervention are critical for effective management.
  • Employers play a crucial role in both preventing substance abuse and supporting affected employees.
  • Customized approaches are necessary for different industries.
  • Continuous education and policy adaptation are crucial to address this evolving issue.

We encourage employers and HR professionals to evaluate their current policies and practices regarding substance abuse. By partnering with organizations like The Encino Detox Center, you can access expert guidance and support, ensuring your workplace remains both productive and safe.

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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