Drug Use in the Workforce: Who's Affected

Implications of Drug Use for Employers

Employees are Affected

Nationally, about 8.6% of working adults have a substance use disorder, including 7.9% with an alcohol use disorder and 1.7% with a marijuana use disorder. Higher rates of substance use disorders are found in industries with younger, male-dominated workforces, like construction. Other industries with easy access to alcohol, like entertainment and food service, also have higher rates. However, substance use disorders can be found in workers from all industries.

Alcohol misuse can lower productivity and earnings through conflicts with supervisors or coworkers, frequent layoffs and unemployment. A national survey found that 21% of women and 15% of men with alcohol abuse or dependence had experienced conflict with a boss or coworker in the past year. Additionally, 11% of men and women with alcohol abuse or dependence reported being laid off in the past year. Weekly binge drinking increased the chance of being laid off by 2.7 percentage points for women and 1.3 percentage points for men.

Dependents and Family Members are Affected

Employees with family members dealing with prescription pain medication addiction may face issues including financial problems, legal consequences, time spent caregiving or lost productivity at work because they are distracted by problems at home (known as "presenteeism"). Similarly, alcohol use disorder can affect family functioning and lead to physical and behavioral problems among caregivers. Studies have found the spouses of alcoholics are at increased risk of stressful life events, and medical and psychiatric disorders, and use more medical care services.

Employers may face higher healthcare costs if the family member is a dependent who receives coverage through the employer's health insurance plan. These data suggest it can be important for employers to consider the healthcare needs of family members as well as employees.