How Prevalent is Drug Use in the Workplace?

Substance abuse in the workplace is not a new development and has been around for decades. However, with the increase in drug availability, and shocking statistics being released each year, employers are starting to notice that drug use is a real problem. They are also beginning to ask themselves, “How prevalent is drug use in the workplace?” The statistics may surprise you, and the cost to a business can be monumental.

What Are The Numbers?

In 2010, the United States Department of Justice released a National Drug Assessment document that outlined shocking statistics about the use of drugs among workers.

  • 10% of part-time employees and 8% of full-time employees abuse illegal drugs. This does not include prescription drug abuse, and is only calculated based on positive drug tests. The real numbers are likely much higher.
  • 77% of illegal drug users in the United States hold full-time or part-time jobs.
  • 60% of adults know someone who goes to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • 32% of employees in the United States said that a co-workers drug or alcohol abuse directly affected their own job performance. Drug use does not only affect the performance of the employee abusing the drug, but all of the co-workers who work closely with that employee.
  • Food service, construction and durable goods industries experience much higher rates of drug abuse than other industries.  Since 2006, employees have begun to abuse prescription medication more than illegal drugs.

Drug use continues to be an issue in all industries and businesses. Unfortunately, there are more drugs on the market than ever before, which has resulted in skyrocketing drug use among employees.

How Does Drug Use Affect Business?

According to a 2009 United States Department of Health and Human Service study, 500 million workdays are lost every year from substance abuse among employees. Further economic results of drug abuse related to businesses are:

  • Loss of productivity, even when the employee is at work.
  • Direct cost of health care. Those with serious drug issues tend to become sick more easily and use their insurance more.
  • Tardiness and sleeping on the job.
  • Possible theft to finance their addictions.
  • Increased turnover.
  • Requiring new employees to be trained when an abuser is terminated.
  • Lower morale of co-workers closely connected to drug or alcohol abusers.
  • Requiring enhanced drug testing programs.

The above list directly illustrates that it can cost a business a monumental amount of funds to allow employees to continue to work when a substance abuse problem is apparent.

What Can Businesses Do?

Substance abuse among employees can cost more in the long run than putting together a comprehensive drug awareness program. Managers and employers cannot ignore issues when it comes to attendance and productivity. These must be addressed and confronted once it is clear there is an issue. The Human Resources department should have a drug awareness program that all employees are trained on. This allows managers to act accordingly, and informs co-workers of their recourse if they suspect a fellow employee is abusing drugs or alcohol. A comprehensive plan includes:

  1. Education – Train managers and employees how to recognize warning signs of substance abuse. Train employees to report possible issues to their direct supervisor.
  2. Documentation – Ensure that detailed records are kept of performance and attendance issues.
  3. Communicate – Meet with the employee and provide objective observations related to their job performance.
  4. Contact Human Resources – Human Resources will be able to provide advice on how to handle problems if they continue.
  5. Refer the Employee – It is in the best interest of the employee, and company, if they can be referred to a rehab facility to seek help to correct the substance abuse issue.

This is a rough outline for suggested actions that a business can incorporate into their drug policy. Depending on your businesses policies and procedures, a plan that suits your business should be carefully constructed.

Drug Use Can End

Your company does not have to be a victim of drug and alcohol abuse. By providing genuine assistance to employees with a drug or alcohol problem, you can help them create a better life for themselves. You can also ensure that costs related to drug use are minimal. Creating and enforcing a stringent drug awareness program can continue to provide a safe and drug free work environment.


This article was written by Adam Watterson.  Adam has over four years of experience working in a drug rehab center and has written other articles such as “How-To Make a Bucket List”

Jon W

Jon works with various authors who are all experts in various health related fields. It is his goal to help share there knowledge, insights and experiences with others.

One thought on “How Prevalent is Drug Use in the Workplace?

  • September 7, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    It seems to be equally healthy for the company and individual to take care of the drug problem at hand. We had someone at my old job who had a meth addiction…it wasn’t pretty.


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