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The Cost of Addiction in Your Workplace

Failing to address addiction in the workplace can impact your bottom line


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Whether your company employs 50 people or 5,000 people, chances are high that someone in your workplace is battling addiction or has a loved one impacted by addiction. Almost 10 percent of American adults struggle with addiction. In the Denver-metro area, approximately 260,000 people suffer from an alcohol or illicit drug addiction problem.

Yet many employers don’t believe that addiction affects their business, either because they have a highly educated workforce or they regularly drug test employees. And while recognizing symptoms of addiction – especially during the early stages of the disease – can also be difficult, employers often assume that if addiction was present in their workplace, it would be obvious. In fact, about 19.2 million U.S. workers reported using or being impaired by alcohol at work at least once in the past year, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The economic impact of addiction in the Denver region is roughly $884 million, and employers bear the brunt of these costs through issues such as increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Here’s a closer look at how failing to address addiction in the workplace can impact your bottom line.

Increased Health Care Costs

Employers are starting to take notice of out-of-network treatment costs and prescriptions related to opioids. In addition, hospital emergency services and overall health care use are increased among those suffering from addiction. Loved ones also frequently report being under debilitating stress.

The health care costs for workers misusing pain medication are three times greater than the average employee, and those workers are twice as likely to have been hospitalized in the past year. And, addiction doesn’t only affect the employee – employers are also bearing the costs associated with family members of workers.

Increased Turnover

Attracting and retaining qualified workers is a growing challenge across industries. Addiction can play a significant role in company turnover for both those with the disease as well as loved ones. Time spent recruiting and training new employees is a significant drain on personnel and resources.

Studies have found that it costs an average of six to nine month’s salary every time a business replaces a salaried employee. By addressing addiction proactively among their workforce, employers can minimize the impact of the tight labor market on their business.

Increased Risk

Companies can’t afford the liability associated with an employee that has a substance use problem. When it comes to safety, rates of workplace accidents, injuries and even fatalities are all higher if addiction is present. A hospital emergency department study showed that 35% of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers. In addition, companies face significant liability when an employee under the influence acts inappropriately at a company event, drives a company vehicle or has bad conduct in the workplace.

Untreated addiction hurts every business, regardless of industry, location or size. Helping employees impacted by addiction is beneficial both financially and from a human resource perspective – allowing employers to cultivate a higher-performing, more engaged workforce.

Jane Ingalls is president of Face It TOGETHER, a nonprofit focused on helping communities deal with the disease of addiction. Ingalls spearheaded Face It TOGETHER’s launch in Denver and builds programs with employers and health care organizations.

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