Studies show that 1.5% of the global disease burden emerges from alcohol and illicit drug addiction. In some countries, the numbers are as high as 5%. Substance addiction is considered extremely harmful because of the frequent relapses that addicted individuals experience when they try to quit the habit. That’s why having regular campaigns around drug-free workplaces and encouraging people to control their consumption of alcohol and tobacco is so important.
But before getting to substance addiction in the workplace, let’s examine the difference between substance abuse and substance addiction. Someone who uses substances either legally or illegally despite knowing its harmful consequences can qualify for substance abuse since this affects them adversely. They are not necessarily addicted, but have a very high risk of developing an addiction. On the other hand, addiction is a situation where an individual is completely dependent on the substance and cannot do without consuming it regularly. Campaigns around tobacco, alcohol or drug-free workplaces must target both audiences.
Substance addiction, stress, and mental health
The consumption of any kind of drug is, more often than not, used as a way of coping, distracting, or even escaping from a difficult or stressful situation. Many people start smoking out of stress, not curiosity.
There has been much research showing a positive link between the level of stress and frustration at the job and smoking. One such research in Finland by Kouvonen A and others included 37,309 female and 8881 male public sector employees. The results indicated that higher intensity of smoking was associated with high levels of stress at work and a high gap between the amount of effort that was put in by employees and the rewards that they received.
Apart from the obvious damage that smoking does to the lungs, there are a lot of other physical and psychological reactions that it causes as well. Consumption of nicotine causes an increase in heart rate, fidgety behaviour, restlessness, and also low-stress tolerance in long run. Frequent consumption of nicotine can also cause anxiety
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Not just cigarettes; any kind of addictive substance consumption, including drugs and alcohol, comes with the risk of ‘tolerance’. As one’s body becomes used to the substance’s effects, the person has to consume the substance in larger quantities to get the same results – e.g., stress relief. Hence it is a slippery slope. If someone is not conscious and not moderating these changes, they’re at a greater risk of developing an addiction.
Drugs and the workplace
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), out of the total population that uses drugs, 68.9% of people are employed and actively working at a workplace.
Some of the many common effects of substance addiction are absenteeism or at places where an individual is expected to be; increased level of frustration due to dependence on those who consume; and increased violence. Many addicted individuals also struggle to manage finances.
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Substance addiction, therefore, creates a series of interconnected and inter-tangled problems that make it difficult for an individual to function optimally. For example, increased dependence on the substance/drug leads to heightened impatience and low tolerance till the time the substance is consumed. As consumption increases, it starts interfering with an individual’s personal and professional life as well – resulting in absenteeism, lower productivity, and poorer financial planning or management.
Since working individuals spend a considerable amount of time at their workplaces, companies can implement substance or drug de-addiction programmes at their workplaces.
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How to implement a drug-free workplace policy
Here are a few ways in which companies can run addiction awareness campaigns for their employees:
- Collaborate with an expert: Invite experts who have worked in the field of de-addiction to speak to your colleagues. When the data and information come from a valid and authentic source, the chances of that being influential double up.
- Do not shy away from talking about it: Addiction is a reality that employers need to acknowledge. Develop an addiction-free workplace policy that clearly states your point of view on drug or alcohol usage. Creating safe spaces for your people to discuss their experiences with drug or alcohol addiction, without judgement or punishment, can be the first step towards enabling them to recover.
3. Make sure people are supported: When addiction starts taking over, individuals may struggle to quit the habit. In times like these, they can be vulnerable, and ashamed, and may also be feeling lonely and unsupported. Make sure that such people are not isolated or shamed. Building bridges of trust and communication can help things go smoother for both parties.
4. Provide them resources: Companies can tie up with deaddiction platforms, NGOs, or rehabilitation centres that provide psychological support to those who need it (yes, substance addiction can be a mental health issue).
Providing avenues for counselling and treatment is key to ensuring an alcohol and drug-free workplace. It also assures the affected employees that the company is invested in their wellbeing and professional development. There are many organisations that provide custom-made deaddiction programmes based on companies’ and individual users’ needs.
5. Take Charge: Companies can actively take charge to deal with addiction at the workplace. The employee has been filtered and selected after a long procedure and the Hiring committee has hired the employee for a reason. While taking charge it’s important to understand that the person is not the problem but the person’s addiction is.
This distinction will make it easier and will also allow an empathetic approach to looking at the problem. Together the company and the employee can then work actively in order to eliminate the issue at hand.
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