Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Some people use alcohol or illicit drugs in the workplace. Although this fact isn’t new, awareness and knowledge of the issue and its repercussions has increased over the years. As a business owner and employer, it is important that you understand the significance of substance abuse in the workplace. And once you understand it, you will likely wish to implement an effective substance abuse policy and train your supervisors to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol usage. You must take preventative action if you want to put an end to the dangerous, costly, and ineffective behavior that can result from alcohol and drug use at work.

Substance Abuse in the Workplace


First, in case you doubt the damage that substance abuse in the workplace can inflict, let’s review some statistics. Nothing gets a point across like sobering, hard-and-fast numbers:

  • Substance abuse in the workplace can cost an employer an average of $11,000 to $13,000 per year (source). 
  • Drug-using employees are 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more (source). They are also involved in more lost-time accidents.
  • When they do come to work, substance abusers are 33% less productive than other employees (source). 
  • Drug-using employees are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. They are also five times more likely to file a workers compensation claim (source).
  • Substance abusers are more likely to use medical benefits than other employees. In fact, substance abusers incur approximately 300% higher health care costs (source).  
  • “In 2014, the number of opioid overdose deaths – including those from prescription pain relievers as well as from the cheaper “street” alternative, heroin – rose a record 14% from the previous years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” (source).
  • According to one study, the abuse of prescription painkillers is costing employers nationwide an estimated $25.5 billion a year in missed workdays and lost productivity (source).
  • Approximately 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed (source).

Clearly, substance abuse in the workplace is costly in numerous ways. Not only does it plague employers financially, but it also affects productivity, morale, safety, and more. Unfortunately, many employers have an attitude of disbelief regarding substance abuse, believing it simply won’t happen in their workplace. When these employers do implement a drug-free workplace policy and begin testing employees, they are often shocked by the results (source). Unfortunately, most employers have no idea how many of their employees are working under the influence of drugs and alcohol.


A drug-free workplace policy can help you put an end to this costly and dangerous behavior. Once the program is established and fully communicated to employees, you can take the next step: testing current employees and new hires for substance abuse. You might choose to implement reasonable suspicion testing, random testing, post-accident testing, pre-employment testing, or return-to-duty testing. Reasonable suspicion testing is immensely useful, as it allows employers to test employees based on signs of substance abuse. These signs must be clearly laid out in the company policy to ensure that all employees understand the company guidelines and are treated equally.

If you’re wondering whether or not your employees could be using drugs or alcohol in the workplace, begin by learning about the various signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Although these signs will vary based on each individual person, you can use them as a general guideline.
The following symptoms are based on blood alcohol content (BAC):

  • BAC of 0.03 to 0.12: Mild euphoria, increased self-confidence, lowered inhibitions, impaired judgment and control, talkativeness, and motor impairment.
  • BAC of 0.09 to 0.25: Emotional instability and impaired hearing, balance, coordination, memory, perception, and visual acuity.
  • BAC of 0.18 to 0.30: Staggering, slurred speech, disorientation, exaggerated emotions, and blackouts.
  • BAC of 0.25 to 0.40: Stupor, loss of motor functions, vomiting, passing out, lack of response, and inability to walk.

To identify employees who may be under the influence of drugs, look for the following common signs and symptoms:

  • Common Signs: Fatigue, confusion, slow reactions, poor coordination, depression, anxiety, and erratic judgment quality.
  • Changes in Appearance: Clothing associated with a “drug culture,” sores on the body, bloodshot eyes, and droopy eyelids.
  • Behavioral Changes: Erratic work performance, “I don’t care” attitude, symptoms of a hangover, use of drug culture jargon, and secretive behavior.

Employees must know that they are subject to reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing, and supervisory personnel must receive training regarding how to spot and document reasonably suspicious signs of drug and alcohol abuse. For best results, re-train your supervisors periodically to be sure they remain educated and prepared.  Employee Screening Services offers many Supervisor Reasonable Suspicion Recognition Training sessions to the general public. Check out our events calendar for upcoming dates and locations.

If you’re looking to implement a drug-free workplace through drug and alcohol testing, contact Employee Screening Services. Based in Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis, Indiana, we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and providers allows ESS to be available anytime, anywhere. For a free needs analysis, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!