Addiction in the Workplace – Part I

Addiction is a widespread problem, reaching into homes and workplaces across the world, affecting the lives of many people. With employees spending as much as a third of their lives on the job, organizations have an opportunity to make a difference by addressing addiction in the workplace which may lead to healthier families and promote higher productivity for the employer.  

In this series, we’ll look at addiction in the workplace, what it is, how to recognize it, how it impacts individuals, families and organizations, and what to do about it.

What is addiction?

The word addiction tends to be closely associated with a specific set of harmful behaviors: smoking cigarettes, consuming too much alcohol, abusing drugs (both legal and otherwise), and shopping or gambling recklessly. While these all qualify, addiction is a much broader concept and applies to a wide range of behaviors.

At its core, addiction is an ongoing dysfunction related to the reward and motivation systems within the brain, characterized by compulsive reward-seeking behaviors along with a disregard for the consequences caused by those behaviors.

Some of the common behaviors that define addiction include:

  • An inability to refrain from a substance or behavior
  • A lack of awareness or care about the negative outcomes of the addiction
  • An absence of emotion

How does addiction show up in the workplace?

Contrary to popular belief, most people struggling with addiction are gainfully employed. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that more than 70% of people who abuse illicit drugs have jobs.  This is also true for most binge drinkers.

Although people with addictions often try to hide their addiction from the people in their lives, including their employers and colleagues, there are usually signs that all is not well.  These include:

  • Withdrawing and avoiding interactions with coworkers
  • Mentioning problems regarding their relationships or finances
  • A deterioration in their hygiene and appearance
  • Frequent requests for time off for hazy reasons

Are some industries more prone to addiction than others?

Although addiction affects people from all walks of life, there are certain industries and professions that have a higher rate of addiction than others.

  • Restaurant and Hospitality Workers

The highest rates of addiction are among people in the hospitality industry. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 16.9% of restaurant, food service, and accommodations workers struggled with substance use disorders.   An even higher rate, 19.1%, reported using illegal drugs in the past month.

  • Doctors and Health Care Workers

Health care professionals also experience higher-than-average rates of addiction,  studies put it at about 10 to 14%. Job-related pressure, time away from family and easy access to pharmaceuticals are often cited as reasons.

  • Construction Workers

Substance abuse is common in the construction industry, with 15% of construction workers being affected.  This group has a higher than normal  use of heavy alcohol and opioids. One study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showed that in a four-year period, construction and mining workers accounted for just over a quarter of all the deaths from opioid overdose reported in the state.

These statistics confirm that addiction in the workplace is a real and urgent issue. In the next article we’ll look at the cost of addiction in the professional world.  These costs are include the monetary aspect and quality of life.

This information is brought to you by Jigsaw Interactive.