Substance Abuse in the Workplace Fact Sheet

Substance use and abuse among workers

Substance use and abuse is a concern for employers. Most drug users, binge and heavy drinkers, and people with substance use disorders are employed. A 2007 survey found that:

  • Of the 17.4 million current illicit drug users age 18 and over, more than 75% were employed.
  • Similarly, among 55.3 million adult binge drinkers, nearly 80% were employed, as were 16.4 million heavy drinkers.
  • Of the 20.4 million adults classified with substance dependence or abuse, over 60% were employed full-time.
    – 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)

The prevalence of substance use among workers is lower than the prevalence among the unemployed, but a sizeable number of employed individuals use drugs and alcohol.

  • 8.4 percent of those employed full-time were current illicit drug users, and 8.8 percent reported heavy alcohol use. – 2007 NSDUH

Substance use and abuse is not necessarily limited to after work hours, leading to the risk of impairment on the job.

  • An estimated 3.1 percent of employed adults actually used illicit drugs before reporting to work or during work hours at least once in the past year, with about 2.9 percent working while under the influence of an illicit drug.
  • An estimated 1.8 percent of employed adults consumed alcohol before coming to work, and 7.1 percent drank alcohol during the workday.
    – Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Studies on Alcohol

Impact of substance use on the workplace

Workers reporting substance use and abuse have higher rates of turnover and absenteeism, are more likely to have worked for more than three employers in the past year, are more likely to have skipped work more than two days in the past month, and were also more likely to have missed more than two days of work due to illness or injury.
– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The impact of employee substance use and abuse is a problem that extends beyond the substance-using employee. There is evidence of co-worker job performance and attitudes being negatively affected. Workers have reported being put in danger, having been injured, having had to work harder, to re-do work, or to cover for a co-worker as a result of a fellow employee’s drinking.
– Employee Assistance Quarterly, JSI Research & Training Institute

Small businesses most vulnerable

Smaller firms may be particularly disadvantaged by worker substance use and abuse. For example, while about half of all U.S. employees work for small and medium sized businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees), about nine in ten employed current illicit drug users and almost nine in ten employed heavy drinkers work for small and medium sized firms. Likewise, about nine in ten full-time workers with alcohol or illicit drug dependence or abuse are employed by small and medium size firms. However, smaller firms are generally less likely to test for substance use. – U.S. Census Bureau, SAMHSA

Information taken from: National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance – (727) 828-0211 x 109 9/1/11 A Division of Drug Free America Foundation, Inc.