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Do your employees suffer from substance abuse?

How to respond with support and treatment.

We all coped differently during the pandemic. In the face of social isolation along with work- and family-related stress, alcohol use skyrocketed — particularly among women External Site. Smoking External Site made a comeback, too, and misuse of opioids and stimulants External Site continued to grow.

Overall, millennials were impacted the most Opens in a new window. In fact, 92 percent of millennials report that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health. According to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s Health of America Report External Site, six of the top-10 conditions are related to mental health, and three of those conditions (alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse) are directly related to addiction. With millennials making up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, these problems cannot be ignored.

“Anxiety, depression, isolation, stress or financial worries are triggers for a person with a substance use disorder. They also threaten people who are at risk of developing a problem,” says Julie Enga, employer health and well-being team leader at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

“It’s all interconnected,” adds Enga. “When an employee comes into the office unwell — whether it be a physical or mental ailment, or the result of a substance abuse disorder, it will have a direct impact on your team, and your internal or external customers.”

Our pandemic drinking problem

Results from a recent study External Site shows a 29 percent increase in alcohol use during the pandemic:

  • Adults under 40 were the most likely to report increased alcohol use (40 percent)
  • Adults with depression were 64 percent more likely to increase drinking, while those with anxiety were 41 percent more likely to do so
  • The pandemic further increased rates of alcohol use in women, who upped their heavy drinking days by 41 percent External Site compared to before the pandemic

The impact of substance abuse on the workplace

Misuse of alcohol and drugs creates costly problems for employees and employers, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI External Site). It creates safety issues, impairs job performance, and contributes to presenteeism and absenteeism. It also causes costly medical problems. The NCADI estimates that alcohol- and drug-related abuse costs U.S. companies $100 billion a year.

According to NCADI statistics, alcohol and drug users:

  • Are far less productive
  • Use three times as many sick days
  • Are more likely to injure themselves or someone else
  • Are five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim
  • Are more likely to skip work or miss work because of a hangover, or go to work high or drunk

“As an employer, you want your employees to be happy and healthy,” says Enga. “You want them to bring their best self to work. You can do that by responding with support and treatment options. And perhaps most importantly, putting programs in place to support good health before they need it, both physical and mental.”

According to the Center on Addiction External Site, 40 million Americans — or more than one in seven people — struggle with alcohol, nicotine, opioid, or other drug use. This is more than the number of Americans with heart conditions, cancer, or diabetes combined.

Four strategies that work

Ignoring or enabling substance abuse at your workplace only creates more problems. And it’s not enough to implement and enforce a drug-free workplace policy. Here are a few effective, long-term strategies to implement at your workplace:

  1. Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Then use it!

    “Most companies have an EAP,” says Enga. “But too often, I hear ‘Yes, we communicate about EAP in the new hire packet,’ but not much more beyond that. The truth is, there is a social stigma related to mental health. Plus, many employees are unaware of or forget about the benefits and services an EAP provides when they are in crisis or dealing with mental health issues. Therefore, provide periodic reminders that highlight the various benefits External Siteprovided by the EAP. Think quarterly ‘we care about you’ messages that discuss substance abuse, the availability of drug counseling, rehabilitation services, and use of the EAP.”
  2. Train your leaders.

    “It’s not enough to tell supervisors and managers to be on the lookout for problems,” says Enga. “Leaders need to be equipped to provide guidance and support. They need training to see the signs of use and abuse, and they need the tools and strategies in order to talk to and encourage employees who are dealing with these serious issues.” According to Enga, you may be able to utilize your EAP for leadership training, or you may want to partner with an outside vendor who can help.
  3. Review your benefits.

    “What do you have in place, from a health care benefit perspective, to support employees who are struggling with substance abuse?” asks Enga. “Make sure there are adequate in-network options for your employees to access mental health and substance abuse treatment. Provide telemedicine and wellness apps for easy access. You may even have the ability to screen employees for mental health or substance abuse problems and connect them to professionals. Do whatever you can to make sure employees have easy access to the outside care and support they need.”
  4. Examine your corporate culture.

    “Understanding your company culture is foundationally important to not only the health of your organization, but also your employees. An unhealthy culture can be a trigger for a number of unhealthy behaviors, like eating more, exercising less, social drinking, tobacco-use, and more. Consider whether your company is providing a positive and productive environment that supports all aspects of good health.”

The bottom line?

Substance abuse not only impacts the people who are using or abusing, it also affects their family, friends, co-workers and customers. Your response as an employer is an important way to live out your company’s culture and values, and keep your employees engaged and productive.

We can help

Corporate culture and employee engagement are fundamental for a thriving, competitive organization. But how do you build a healthy and productive workplace culture? Wellmark has a solution. We've partnered with SALVEO Partners to help you go deeper with employee engagement and culture with the Thriving Workplace Culture SurveyTM.

Visit the Wellmark Marketing Toolkit to learn how your organization can bridge the engagement gap Secure Site.

Will substance abuse impact the future of your workplace?

Not only are millennials (soon-to-be the largest generation of your workforce) struggling with a decline in overall physical and mental health, three of the top-10 conditions impacting millennials include substance abuse. Download your free copy of the Millennials In Your Workplace e-book Opens in a new window, you can take advantage of extensive research, in-house data and subject matter experts to create sustainable, long-term changes in your workplace today.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at Send Email.