Addiction is a complex problem that affects many individuals, families, and communities across America. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (an agency within the US Department of Health) reports that 46 million Americans struggle with addiction.

While most people can use some substances without problems, others are prone to becoming addicted. These addictions can be incredibly harmful to the individual's health and relationships - and to their careers.

On average, workers with untreated substance abuse disorders cost employees $8,255 per worker each year, reaching $14,374 for executives, administrators, managers and financial workers.
~ National Safety Council

Understanding how to help employees with substance abuse disorder is important for organizations not only from a financial perspective but because it demonstrates a real commitment to employee well-being in general.

What is Substance Abuse Disorder?

Addictions have likely been around since the beginning of time, and they can be substance-based (e.g., alcohol or stimulants) or behavior-based (e.g., gambling). In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes a range of addictive disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Cannabis use disorder
  • Gambling disorder
  • Stimulant use disorder
  • Opioid use disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Other substance use disorder

The terminology for addiction has evolved over time, and different terms have been used to describe it. In 2013, with the publication of the DSM-5, the APA replaced the term "Substance Abuse and Dependence" with "Substance Use Disorder." This change was intended to provide a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of addiction while also promoting the importance of treatment and recovery.

The Impacts on Employees and Employers

Rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse vary by industry, but the problem impacts all types of workforces, from blue-collar to white-collar professions. According to the National Safety Council, approximately one out of every 11 U.S. workers – nearly 9% – had a substance use disorder in the last 12 months.

The impacts of SUD can be wide-ranging in the workplace.

  • Productivity - Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can have a significant impact on employees and their productivity. People with SUD are more likely to miss work or be late, have lower work performance, and be involved in workplace accidents. These negative consequences can lead to additional stress and strain on both the employee and the employer.

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  • Health - Substance use can also lead to a range of physical and mental health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. These health problems can affect an employee's ability to work and function effectively.

  • Financial - SUD can lead to financial problems, which can cause additional stress and may further affect work productivity.

  • Work environment - SUD can lead to financial problems, which can cause additional stress and may further affect work productivity.

SUD can also create a challenging work environment for colleagues and supervisors. Coworkers may be uncomfortable or uncertain about how to respond to an employee who is struggling with addiction. Supervisors may have to manage employees with unpredictable behavior, absenteeism, or conflicts with other employees.

The cost of addiction in the workforce is usually measured financially, but it can also refer to more subjective losses, which can change the entire nature of an office.

Employers play an important role in helping employees who are struggling with addiction by providing resources, education, and a supportive culture that values employee well-being.

Signs That an Employee May Have a Problem

Identifying addiction can be challenging, but there are some signs that employers and colleagues can look for. Here are some signs that an employee may be struggling with addiction:

  • Changes in behavior - If an employee is displaying erratic behavior, mood swings, or acting out of character, it could be a sign of addiction. This could include being easily agitated, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, or changes in their sleep patterns.

  • Physical symptoms - Addiction can also result in physical changes in an employee's appearance or behavior. These can include bloodshot eyes, tremors or shakes, substance odor on the breath or clothing, or weight loss.

  • Personal life changes - Addiction can lead to significant changes in an employee's personal life, such as problems with relationships or finances. Employees who are struggling with addiction may become isolated, secret, or erratic. Additionally, they may have difficulty meeting deadlines, being able to function independently, or working collaboratively with colleagues.

It is important to note that these signs do not automatically indicate addiction, but they can be a cause for concern. If an employee does display these symptoms, it may be appropriate to have a conversation with them to determine if they need help or support. Overall, addiction is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful, compassionate response from the workplace culture.

The good news is that with the right support, individuals with SUDs can make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives. Leaders have an important role to play in helping employees who are struggling with addiction recover and return to work as productive members of their team.

Leaders should take a proactive approach when it comes to employee health and well-being – both in terms of prevention and treatment. 

7 ways employers can help:

  1. Offering robust health insurance, short and long-term disability coverage, Employee Assistance Programs, return-to-work plans, and worker peer-support programs.

  2. Providing education about the dangers of substance abuse and addiction, including information on signs and symptoms.

  3. Establishing organizational policies that provide clear guidelines for drug testing, use at work, and accountability.

  4. offering resources such as confidential counseling services or employee assistance programs (EAPs).

  5. Establishing an effective process for identifying and responding to employees who may be dealing with addiction.

  6. developing a return-to-work program designed to help those in recovery transition back into the workplace.

  7. offering support and understanding during their journey of recovery.

Leaders can also create a supportive environment by fostering team cohesion, providing feedback on successes, and encouraging open communication channels. By making sure that every employee is treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, leaders will demonstrate their commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace where everyone feels valued.

Addictions and the Law

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is a federal law that requires certain employers to maintain a drug-free workplace. This includes establishing and implementing policies that prohibit the use, possession, manufacture, or distribution of illegal drugs in the workplace.

In addition to providing clear guidelines for employees, the Drug-Free Workplace Act also outlines specific steps that employers must take in order to be compliant with the law. These include conducting drug tests, providing employee education on substance abuse, and taking appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.

The Act provides significant incentives for companies who comply with its requirements and protects them from legal liability should an employee become injured as a result of their own drug use.

Companies should be aware of the legal issues that may arise when dealing with an employee who has a Substance Use Disorder. 

  • Discrimination: Employers should be aware of anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws protect employees from discrimination based on their SUD and any associated behaviors or symptoms.

  • Privacy: Employers should also be aware of privacy laws, such as HIPAA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which protect employee health information from unauthorized disclosure or use.

  • Drug Testing: Employers should have policies in place regarding drug testing and notification of results.

    By understanding what legal issues are involved in dealing with an employee who has a SUD, employers can ensure they are meeting their obligations while protecting the rights of their workers.

The Benefits of Helping Employees with Addictions

Addiction is a serious and complex issue, but it is also treatable. Studies have shown that addiction treatment can be successful in helping individuals regain their lives and become productive members of society.

Each employee who recovers from a SUD saves a company over $8,500 on average.
~ National Safety Council

When employers take steps to help employees with addictions, they can reap a number of benefits:

5 Benefits to employers:

  • Reduced absenteeism and turnover

  • Increased  productivity and morale

  • Improved health outcomes for employees

  • Lower healthcare costs

  • Reduction in workplace accidents and injuries

Of course, a big benefit is demonstrating care for the well-being of employees, which leads to a more supportive work environment for all. 

By taking a proactive and compassionate approach to helping employees who are struggling with addiction, leaders can create a more supportive work environment that is conducive to recovery and success. Not only will this benefit the individual employee, but it will also help the organization as a whole to reach its goals.

When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.

Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you.  Visit or call 866-648-8326.

The Ulliance Employee Assistance Program can address the
following issues:

• Stress about work or job performance
• Crisis in the workplace
• Conflict resolution at work or in one’s personal life
• Marital or relationship problems
• Child or elder care concerns
• Financial worries
• Mental health problems
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Grief
• Interpersonal conflicts

Have some question about our services? Book a quick meeting below!



Addiction In The Workplace: How Leaders Can Help Create A Path To Recovery; Kelsey Moreira, Forbes,

Employing and Managing People with Substance Use Addictions; Society for Human Resource Management,

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA),

New Analysis: Employers Can Save Average of $8,500 for Supporting Each Employee in Recovery from Substance Use Disorder;

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

The Effects of Substance Abuse In the Workplace; American Addiction Centers
What Is a Substance Use Disorder?, American Psychiatric Association