Online Custom «Substance Abuse in the Workplace» Essay Sample

Substance Abuse in the Workplace


Substance abuse is harmful for practically all spheres of human life. Be it alcohol or drugs, such habit can hardly bring more good than a short-term relief. Moreover, it causes a number of negative short and long-term effects. Unfortunately, fluctuating blood pressure, heart attacks, tremors, anxiety, violent behavior, depression, perception or concentration difficulties or even death are the most common related consequences. Substance abuse in the workplace deserves particular attention as an urgent problem that can cause serious losses not only for the employee, but for the entire working team or company. With regard to social drinkers, one-time occasions of hangover or withdrawal contribute to the work effectiveness decrease. As for heavy abusers, situation is much more complicated. Starting with injuries and loss of productivity, the abuser becomes a threat for him or herself and the people around, as well as a serious burden for the company. It is difficult to estimate the precise number of losses that drinkers and drug abusers cause. However, they should be based on the costs that businesses pay for the health issues, productivity decrease or other related incidents. The current study is aimed to define the most frequent spheres of the abusers’ impact to offer the most effective ways to fight substance abuse in the workplace.


The harmful substances that people abuse include tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs such as cannabis, depressants, hallucinogens, inhalants, opiates and stimulates. Among the listed substances, all have longer or shorter impacts on health, productivity and behavior of a person. Impaired judgment, poor coordination, bad memory and slow reflexes, sleepiness, disorientation and anxiety are common examples of imbalance in people’s lives caused by the above mentioned factors. In addition, the problem of chemical dependency is common for at least 10% of American workers (Frone, 2015). Some other reports show that the number of Americans who suffered from chemical substance abuse in 2007 reached 20 million with 60% of this number employed full-time (Slavit & Reagin, 2009). What is also important, not only the addicts themselves, but the entire staff and company have to pay for such dependence. These expenses comprise the growing healthcare expenditures, illnesses and injuries compensations, disability claims and, finally, post job-loss allowances.

Performance of each worker is a meaningful part of the entire working process in any business. Consequently, reduction in productivity of one employee impacts overall achievements of the company. While single occasions of such work quality decline do not lead to serious losses, regular improper work quality becomes a real problem for the final results and profits of the business. The NIDA (2015) reports that substance abuse is quite costly for the American nation and makes up more that than $700 billion of yearly damage to the economy. The main reasons are productivity loss, related crimes and health care expenses.

More than a half of the illicit substance abusers are of the productive working age, which means that their addiction is to a great extent related to work.  For instance, 8% of the workers in the US drink alcohol every day (NIDA, 2015). Such numbers cause at least $100 billion damage to the employers due to productivity decrease, related safety hazards, regular medical claims, absenteeism, employee theft etc. (NIDA, 2015).

Short and Long-Term Effects of Substance Abuse

The growing concern about substance abuse in the workplace has caused demands for thorough investigation of this matter. Practically, all employers address their attention to the productivity loss by an employee. Hence, it is of utmost importance to find the underlying reasons of such undesirable changes. If they are connected with the abuse of drugs or other substances, the situation calls for immediate action. Substance abuse interferes with working process and influences one’s productivity, concentration and attention. Moreover, it has a considerable impact on the number of injuries or accidents in or out of the workplace, extra sick and disability leaves or even fatal cases. If different chemical substances of different origin can have various power of influence, there are some related factors that aggravate the scope of the problem. For instance, the negative impact from drugs, alcohol and nicotine increases not only with growth of the regularity of their consumption, but also with the number of stressful situations, irregular schedule shifts, fatigue, job dissatisfaction, isolation, remote supervision and easy access to substances (Terza & Vechnak, 2007).

There is abundant evidence that use of different illicit substances can temporarily improve our perception, feelings, mood and state of mind, hence greatly contribute to one’s work productivity. However, all chemical substances provide only temporary positive effects, with short and long-term negative consequences influencing one’s life. So, one can divide them into at least three groups: nicotine, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Smoking is probably one of the most tolerable habits at work as its influence on the employee’s productivity is not so obvious. However, it is still risky for the workers’ health and leads to the health expenses growth. In some cases, it can also influence productivity as it is widely known that heavy smokers have a higher level of fatigue and less energy in comparison to non-smokers. In addition, breaks for smoking have to be under strict control in order to avoid wasting working hours for such a harmful habit.  

Alcohol abuse is associated with more serious consequences than smoking. Even if it goes about singular occasions of alcohol abuse, such phenomena as hangover or withdrawal are a serious hindrance in terms of the workers’ productivity. Apart from decreased reflexes and speed of reactions, impaired operation of the brain and poor ability of performing tasks, such state also promotes various mistakes, injuries and traumas. Especially dangerous consequence of alcohol abuse can be found if one’s work is connected with driving or some other circumstances demanding particular concentration and quick reaction. However, the adequacy of addiction treatment and problem of giving the diagnosis of alcohol dependence is also a serious obstacle for the employers trying to avoid safety risks at wok and save money relying on private or governmental insurance.

Similar problems are related to illicit drugs consumption. The most common drugs are heroin, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy. All of them are very addictive and may cause anxiety in case of inadequacy of the dose consumption. Even though euphoria can raise the employees’ productivity for a while, all the drugs ruin people’s memory and health (Slavit & Reagin, 2009). Moreover, the after-day can be also marked with withdrawal including such symptoms as headaches, irritability, gastrointestinal issues, spasms, problems with coordination and even heart attacks.

Considering the working schedule and the needs of the abusers, one can easily understand that drug addiction can hardly be combined properly with work. Even the act of regular chemical consumption can become a real problem because of the usual limitations and demands at work. As a result, being abusive in the workplace, the employee usually feels disturbed, anxious or angry. Usually, employees with addictions provide “inconsistent work quality, increased absenteeism, poor concentration, misjudgments” (Slavit & Reagin, 2009). Moreover, the abuser’s “disregard for safety or carelessness” together with taking various additional risks or decreased attention may bring about negative issues, and job loss as the most ordinary (Slavit & Reagin, 2009). For instance, it may be tempting for the substance abuser to have a longer lunch break in order to obtain more satisfaction and not to be interfered during the process. As a result, work suffers a lot.  When considering personal performance, the worker with an addiction problem usually does not pay attention to his or her own state of mind or health. However, it is rather challenging to control one’s emotion, be responsive to the demands and needs from supervisors and managers, especially if a person is preoccupied with the idea of how and where to get more substance instead of dealing with the established tasks or meeting deadlines (Frone, 2015). As a result, one can lose his positions within the company, trustworthiness, and start being considered as unreliable, unpredictable, having controversial and difficult relationships with the colleagues (Slavit & Reagin, 2009).

For employers, it is an essential issue to address, due to a considerable sum of money one’s addiction may cost. For this reason, a company, while hiring someone, usually conducts numerous tests, assessing psychological state, health and, of course, drug abuse. According to the observations, substance abusing employees are more likely to be late for work, provide “unexcused absences”, “request early dismissal”, get involved into accidents in the workplace and even steal from the company or colleagues (Frone, 2015). Moreover, beside themselves, they also affect people around them (Frone, 2015). The above-mentioned reasons very often lead abusers to getting fired and further financial, psychological and physiological issues. Hence, productivity loss may result in the job loss.

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Despite numerous worldwide campaigns against substance abuse, the problem is still acute (Terza & Vechnak, 2007). It is common knowledge that alcohol and drug addiction substantially influences not only one’s family life, but also his or her relationships with friends and colleagues. Moreover, it affects the lives of the surrounding people, including their perception of the society, relationships and job performance. If a person has a family member, a friend or a co-worker with substance abuse, his or her ability to function properly within the society is under threat. The point is that under such circumstances, one can easily become addicted as well. Moreover, the negative aspect is also that an enterprise may have to pay for mistakes and distractions due to having a substance abuser within the circle of the people employed (Terza & Vechnak, 2007).

A substance abusing family member strongly influences not only his or her own health and mental state or relationships with a spouse or children, but also affects their attitude towards their friends and colleagues, their mood and behavior, school or job performance, etc. Considering psychological issues and mental health affected by this problem, one may feel disturbed, or even depressed. Hence, job performance would be poor, no matter how skillful and expert a worker can be (Terza & Vechnak, 2007). If a family is taken as the smallest unit under influence of the problem, one may observe violent behavior, constant arguments, fights within the unit, which remains in the memory of the person and may cause difficulties with concentration at work. However, sometimes, a job serves as a place where he or she feels safe and comfortable, thus leads to good results and work efficiency (Straussner & Fewell, 2007).

Another sphere which may affect one’s working competence is friends. Usually, those who are in friendly relationships share similar interests, ideas, thoughts and, sometimes, habits. Consequently, substance abuse becomes another threat for proper job performance of the related colleagues. Hence, one should be extremely cautious about his or her personal connections if he or she cares about own future and career (Straussner & Fewell, 2007). According to extensive research, friendship is viewed as one of the best stimuli for future success, as there always exists a kind of competition like who will achieve more in life (Straussner & Fewell, 2007). As a result, improper motivation can become devastating for the life of the party that is morally weaker. In contrast, some other prominent cases of someone’s failures caused by substance abuse can cause an adverse reaction and can deter colleagues from making similar mistakes. Hence, it is always useful to find proper tactics to represent the undesirable flaws and behavioral models, without violating ethical norms and confidentiality of the addict.

The sphere of work itself comprises numerous interrelated factors. A company may suffer from numerous losses if there is an alcoholic, drug abuser or someone close to such even within big companies. The bigger enterprise is, the greater losses it may face if a mistake occurs. Psychologically, it is difficult for the personnel to cooperate with someone who is unreliable, as his misbehavior and constant mistakes lead to irritation,, anger, etc., which may result in poor performance of one’s duties. Having such a colleague in the workplace will distract others from their main duty – performing the job. It is hardly possible to properly concentrate knowing that there is someone, whom one dislikes or prefers to avoid (Terza & Vechnak, 2007).

Substance abuse is a fast developing threat, highly influencing all spheres of our life: family, friendship, and job. One may not even notice how rapidly disturbance or angriness can develop if someone close to him or her becomes addicted. Sometimes, in an attempt to help a person, one’s behavior and thoughts can change due to the surrounding stressful factors related to someone else’s addiction. Lack of punctuality, absenteeism, depression, constant anxiety etc. do not bring any advantage to any worker. Even more, one may lose everything, if he or she does not pay attention or try to distract from the problem at least during working hours. The future depends on personal perception of the outer world and it is sometimes better to see a specialist and ask the disturbing questions, get advice and try to resist instead of holding everything inside.

Illegal Activities

Working hours is time that should be devoted only to work and regular tasks provided by supervisors. All work must be done thoroughly, while solving one’s personal problems is intolerable. One of the most striking unrelated activities at work can be connected with substance abuse. For instance, many of the abusers or dealers try to get additional money for some extra services like hand-to-hand delivery of different substances. The ways the employers can resist such workers should be widely known as they are crucial to preventing substance abuse in the workplace. If a company wants to avoid substance abuse or its illegal trade within the establishment, it should develop a set of regulations explaining what may happen to those who fail to follow the policy of the drug-free workplace. Moreover, state governing system also supports those who manage to follow the policy by providing different bonuses (UNCB, 2009).

For instance, the University of Vermont established a policy called “Drug-Free Workplace”, which explains the reasons, applicability and penalties for substance abuse in the workplace. Such regulations are based both on internal and international policies. Hence, governments and companies themselves are empowered to conduct investigations and take legal action against those who abuse and spread illicit drugs (UNCB, 2009). If the internal policy does not regulate drug abuse, it may itself face legal procedures if illegal drug distribution by an employee is reported.

Each institution or company establishes rules to ensure all employees are informed about the terms of work. Based on the University of Vermont regulations, “drug counseling, rehabilitation and employee assistance” is also provided (Heading-Grant, 2009). Moreover, the institution requires constant drug check-ups and participation in rehabilitation programs, as well as drug abuse counseling. Each employee is “convicted of a criminal drug statute violation” if any of the rules are broken (Heading-Grant, 2009). The institution may also apply some sanctions and refer to the appropriate governmental authorities in case the violations are considered illegal in terms of the current legislation (Delogu, 2007).

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According to the United States federal legislation, any person under twenty-one is to carry legal responsibility for “procuring, possession or transportation of alcohol” by paying fines up to $500 and/or six months of imprisonment (Heading-Grant, 2009). Generally, each company sets up their own rules. However, they all cover the same main issue: any substance abuse during working hours is forbidden.

Another issue is drug trafficking, which is a direct violation of the law and leads to severe punishments according to federal regulations. Hence, both sides, those who distribute illicit drugs and those who are informed about it, undergo criminal responsibility (Delogu, 2007). Fines for illegal drug trafficking may range up to $8 million and include “a mandatory prison sentence, even life sentence” (Heading-Grant, 2009).

Current legislation controls possession of alcoholic beverages and illicit drugs. Hence, any of the above-mentioned actions can immediately cause criminal sanctions, which is highly influential on one’s employment and personal records as this is already an “involvement with the criminal justice” (Heading-Grant, 2009). Possession of illicit drugs may lead to 1 year incarceration or more, and a fine varying from $1,000 to $100,000 (Heading-Grant, 2009). Sometimes, a company may also be fined for possession or trafficking if an employee was found guilty. Thus, it meets a company's interests to constantly monitor and control these issues in order to avoid future problems with the federal government.

Time spent in the workplace should be devoted only to doing one’s job. Numerous companies provide their personnel with a set of rules explaining what types of abuse may have negative consequences. One should follow main regulations and laws at both international and internal levels. Illegal drug abuse may bring numerous penalties including job loss or prosecution. Hence, it is better not to be involved in such type of activity to avoid problems connected with law.

Substance Abuse Prevention

Substance abuse prevention should start with careful work of the HR department. Hiring a worker who is addicted to chemical substances is a real threat to the entire working process. Moreover, employing such a worker may negatively affect the company’s reputation and very few employees would accept the situation without any negative reactions.  Hence, none of the employers want to hire a problematic person with chemical addiction or keep him or her on the position as it is obviously not in the business’ interest to lose profits. Some people, who already got problems with drugs or alcohol, may believe that nobody notices their misbehavior, lack of concentration or absenteeism. In reality, the ways of performing duties and monthly statistics of job performance immediately reveal whether a person is able or not to work properly. Based on such performance comparison, one can easily trace that the employee’s work was disturbed due to some reasons.

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