Addiction In the Workplace

Five steps to deal with employees’ alcohol, drug abuse.

By Paul Maccabee

During the '80s and early-'90s, Bob Poznanovich was a vice president of a national consumer electronics company, responsible for supporting 300 employees, $300 million in revenue-and a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit. 

Now in recovery, Poznanovich serves as executive director of business development for Minnesota-based addiction treatment center Hazelden, where he advises corporations on how to respond to addiction in the workplace.

"To keep health insurance premiums down, Minnesota business owners are embracing wellness solutions to every health issue that affects their workplace-from obesity and high blood pressure to smoking and stress management-except for the one health crisis that exposes companies to the most risk and expense: abuse of alcohol and other drugs by employees," says Poznanovich. 


Bob Poznanovich shares how to address workplace addiction: 

1. Recognize that, right now, some of your employees are abusing alcohol and drugs. "Most people with addiction have jobs. That includes jobs in your company," Poznanovich says. This should not be shocking: Studies show that 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, three-quarters of them are employed.


2. Understand the risks and costs that addiction poses for your company. The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information estimates the annual cost of drug addiction to employers-if you factor in lowered productivity, health care costs, injuries and accidents-tops $100 billion. Addicted individuals are five times more likely to injure themselves or other workers on the job, according to the American Council for Drug Education. Addicts are five times more likely to file a worker's comp claim and have health care costs that are three times higher than non-addicted employees. "Just as important, addicted employees lead to more workplace violence, sexual harassment, product liability and safety issues," says Poznanovich.


3. Get your company's human resources department, employee assistance program and wellness staff involved. Are they empowered by having addiction addressed in your company-wide wellness campaigns-or are those campaigns limited to smoking cessation and weight-loss programs? Does your health insurance plan cover addiction treatment?  


4. Create written policies that help your employees get sober. Does your policy manual tell employees that you treat addiction like any other chronic illness? Or does it just threaten addicts with termination? Do you have policies in place to welcome people in recovery back to your workplace after treatment? 

"Minnesota has far more addicted workers than employees with diabetes, yet we have more strategies in place to help employees manage their diabetes than we do to help employees recover from addiction," Poznanovich says. "Why? Because of stigma: Many company executives believe that addiction is a moral failing. Few people blame the diabetic, but everyone blames the addict, though both have a chronic illness." 


5. Implement a culture that guides addicted employees away from abuse and toward treatment. How much drinking is there at your office holiday party? Then, consider your travel expense policies. For years, IBM refused to reimburse employees for purchases of alcohol at meetings. 

"When I was working in the Silicon Valley, it was common for high-tech employers to throw a party on Fridays, where everyone would bond over a keg of beer," Poznanovich says. "When did that kind of drinking become a good idea on company time?

So here's the good and the bad news: "No disease has a higher potential cost to an organization than addiction," Poznanovich says. "However, the disease of addiction is treatable, and the proof is that Minnesota companies are full of employees who are in recovery today, and who will be productive far into the future."