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Can Counseling Address Substance Abuse in the Workplace?

Counseling found its way into the workplace some time ago, when alcohol began greatly affecting employees’ productivity levels. Employees would come back from lunch after a few drinks, and then leave early for the day, or they would not show up at all because of a hangover. Now, as more and more employees are becoming addicted to prescription pills and other substances, many more companies are jumping on the counseling bandwagon.

The most significant problems that companies experienced due to employee substance abuse and addiction are as follows:

  • Absenteeism
  • Reduced productivity
  • Lack of trustworthiness
  • Having a negative impact on the company’s external reputation
  • Missed deadlines
  • Increased health care costs

Offering counseling has become an alternative to terminating employment in many cases. Sometimes good employees run into short-term bad times outside of the office and begin to self-medicate those problems with drugs or alcohol. When they begin showing up for work self-medicated an employer might notice a change and confront them about it. Rather than fire that employee, companies now offer counseling to help someone get on the right track back to putting in a good day’s work.

Human resources professional have cited facing at least one of the following obstacles in helping their employees with substance abuse and addiction issues:

  • Having a lack of experience in identifying substance abuse and addiction
  • Having a lack of information regarding treatment options
  • Experiencing personal discomfort in approaching employees about the issue
  • Not having enough time to deal with substance abuse and addiction issues

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, are now offered available as an employee benefit, whether or not the employee has company insurance. An EAP’s goal is to help resolve short-term problems through counseling, education and other resources. They also can refer an employee for additional help for longer-term problems. Both managers and employees have access to EAPs for issues such as work place relations, legal, financial and behavioral problems that may be caused by substance abuse issues. If an employee must take time off from work to receive treatment, an EAP can help to prepare someone for their transition back to work when treatment is complete.

There also can be are underlying reasons that a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, primarily mental illness. Depression is much more common than realized, and the stress and anxiety that a taxing job creates for a person can send them into a depression, perhaps over an inability to keep up with the pace at work. They turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the feelings of depression. They are not abusing substances just to have a good time, and often the self-medication of depression becomes something that cannot be cured with just a reprimand. Counseling offered through the workplace can often uncover such co-existing problems, also known as co-morbidity. Sometimes by treating the depression, or other malady, substance abuse will lessen, and can be more easily eliminated.

Prevention tactics

substance abuse in the workplace

Prevention tactics can help prevent substance abuse in the workplace.

Some employers will put prevention tactics in the workplace to keep employees from getting involved with substance abuse. A company may implement a “culture of good health.” This involves the creation of a workplace where employee health is promoted through health programs, health policies, benefits and substance abuse prevention support. All levels of a company’s employees are involved, which establishes a workplace health program as a routine part of business, designed to improve overall business goals. Creating a culture of good healthcan engage and empower employees, reduce health care costs for the company and improve employee productivity.

A workplace prevention program may include any or all of the following:

  • Establishing the company as a drug-free workplace and providing literature about substance abuse policies.
  • Within that literature, stating that the use of alcohol or drugs is never permitted in the workplace.
  • Communicating information about the health risks of alcohol and drug use through company websites.
  • Educating employees about the health and productivity hazards of drinking excessively and using illicit substances through company wellness programs, Employee Assistance Programs and Work/Life programs.
  • Incorporating substance abuse information in workplace wellness strategies, such as learning about good nutrition, exercise and other aspects of healthy living.
  • Offering health benefits that provides counseling and other coverage for substance abuse, including aftercare.
  • Ensuring that company wellness programs, Employee Assistance Programs and Work/Life programs provide follow-up services for an employee’s drug and/or alcohol problems.
  • Respecting an employee’s privacy. Employers may not know who among their employees is in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse. But if company officials do have this information, they need to recognize and respecting an employee’s need and desire for privacy.

Counseling in the workplace rarely happens “in” the workplace. Rather, the employer will help a worker get into a solid counseling, outpatient, or inpatient, program. They will monitor the employee while they are at work, and may require them to submit to in-house drug or alcohol testing, to make sure that the employee is taking advantage of what the company is offering, free of charge, and helping themselves to help themselves.

So yes, counseling can help, and has helped, many employees in the workplace get back on their feet again and away from drug and alcohol abuse. Some health insurance plans do not offer substance abuse coverage, so some employees may never seek help on their own. The fact that an employer can offer this help to them free of charge makes it much more likely that they will take advantage of what is being offered, and often are happy that someone has reached out to lend the hand they needed.

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