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General Workplace Impact

Alcohol and Drug Abuse in America Today

Although overall rates have not increased over the past several years, alcohol and drug abuse continues to afflict American society at the start of the 21st century.

  • An estimated 14.8 million Americans are current illicit drug users.
  • Nearly 11 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 are current illicit drug users. Among this population, marijuana is the most prevalent drug of use.
  • Young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 have the highest rate of current illicit drug use at roughly 20 percent.
  • Heavy drinking occurs most frequently among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (13.3 percent), peaking at age 21 (17.4 percent).
  • The rate of current illicit drug use is higher among men (8.7 percent) than women (4.9 percent).
  • Heavy drinking correlates strongly with illicit drug use. Of 12.4 million heavy drinkers, 30.5 percent are also current illicit drug users.

 

America’s Workplaces at Risk

No business, regardless of size or location, is immune to the countless problems that alcohol and drug abuse can cause. Most individuals who abuse alcohol and other drugs are employed, and when they arrive for work, they don’t leave their problems outside the door.

  • Although the rate of current illicit drug use is higher among unemployed individuals, the vast majority of current illicit drug users in the US are employed. Of 12.3 million adult current illicit drug users, 9.4 million (77 percent) work.
  • An estimated 6.5 percent of full-time and 8.6 percent of part-time workers are current illicit drug users.
  • Alcohol is the most widely abused drug among working adults. An estimated 6.2 percent of adults working full time are heavy drinkers.
  • More than one in three (38 percent) workers between the ages of 18 and 25 are binge drinkers.
  • Among employed adults, the highest rates of heavy drinking and current illicit drug use are reported by white, non-Hispanic males who are between the ages of 18 and 25 and have less than a high school education.
  • By occupation, the highest rates of current illicit drug use and heavy drinking were reported by food preparation workers, waiters, waitresses and bartenders (19 percent); construction workers (14 percent); service occupations (13 percent); and transportation and material moving workers (10 percent).
  • More than 60 percent of adults know someone who has reported for work under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Everyone Bears the Impact

Everyone involved in running a business—both employers and employees—suffers when there is workplace alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs are obvious, such as increased absences, accidents and errors. Others, such as low morale and high illness rates, are less so, but the effects are equally harmful.

  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work or cover for a co-worker or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee’s drinking.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses roughly 81 billion dollars in lost productivity in just one year—37 billion due to premature death and 44 billion due to illness. Of these combined costs, 86 percent are attributed to drinking.
  • Alcoholism is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.
  • Individuals who are current illicit drug users are more than twice as likely (9.3 percent) than those who are not (4.3 percent) to have changed employers three or more times in the past year.
  • Individuals who are current illicit drug users are also more likely (12.9 percent) than those who are not (5 percent) to have skipped one or more work days in the past month.
  • Similarly, individuals who are current heavy alcohol users are more likely (8 percent) than those who are not (4.4 percent) to have changed employers three or more times in the past year.
  • Individuals who are current heavy alcohol users are also more likely (11.3 percent) than those who are not (5.1 percent) to have skipped one or more work days in the past month.
  • Results from a US Postal Service study revealed that employees who tested positive in a preemployment drug test are 66 percent more likely to be absent and 77 percent more likely to be discharged within three years than those who tested negative.
  • Of callers to the National Cocaine Helpline, 75 percent admit to having used drugs on the job, 64 percent report that drugs have adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent say they have sold drugs to fellow employees and 18 percent say they have stolen from coworkers to support their drug habit.
Small Businesses Most Vulnerable

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have big disadvantages. They are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms that don’t have one, and the cost of just one error caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small company.
Among the population of full-time employed current illicit drug users:

  • 44 percent work for small establishments (1-24 employees)
  • 43 percent work for medium establishments (25-499 employees)
  • 13 percent work for large establishments (500 or more employees)

Among the population of full-time employed heavy drinkers:

  • 36 percent work for small establishments
  • 47 percent work for medium establishments
  • 17 percent work for large establishments


Drug-Free Workplace Programs Add Value…to Businesses, Communities and Lives

Helping Businesses Benefit from Being Drug Free

Workplace drug and alcohol abuse clearly compromises the safety of the workforce and the public by contributing to accidents and workplace injuries. But when employees abuse alcohol and other drugs, many other aspects of a business's operation, including its bottom line, bear the burden. Some costs-increased absences, accidents and errors-are obvious. Others, such as low morale and high illness rates, are less so, but the effects are equally harmful. The vast majority of drug users work, and when they arrive at work, they don't leave their problems outside the door.

Consider the following:

  • Out of 13.4 million illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2001, 10.2 million (76.4 percent) worked either full or part time.
  • Between 10 and 20 percent of the nation's workers who die on the job test positive for alcohol or other drugs.Nearly 77 percent (10.7 million) of illicit drug users use marijuana.3 Six out of every 10 workers who test positive for drug use test positive for marijuana.
  • Industries with the highest rates of drug use include many of the same industries at high-risk of occupational injuries, such as construction, mining, manufacturing and wholesale.

The good news is that employers have enormous power to improve the safety and health of their workplaces by implementing drug free workplace programs. Educating employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and encouraging individuals with alcohol and drug problems to seek help also adds value to their businesses and communities. Many employers integrate drug free workplace components into their overall safety programs and find it key to reducing on-the-job accidents and injuries.

A comprehensive drug free workplace program generally includes five elements: a policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance and drug testing. Although employers may choose not to include all five components, it is recommended that all be explored. Research shows that more components may lead to a more effective program.

Before considering each element, employers should examine the needs of their workforce and business to ensure the program they design will fit their company. Because every business is unique, there is no one right way to establish a program. A careful assessment will determine which elements are the most feasible and beneficial, as well as which may be unnecessary or unsuitable. Many companies find it helpful to seek employee input during this process.

Drug-Free Workplace Tools and Resources

Although not required by OSHA, drug-free workplace programs are natural complements to other initiatives that help ensure safe and healthful workplaces and add value to American businesses and communities. The U.S. Department of Labor's Working Partners for Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace program offers a variety of tools and resources to help employers get started. Working Partners raises awareness about the impact drugs and alcohol have on the workplace and provides information on how to establish drug free workplace programs that protect worker safety and health.

 

This information was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor