The Real Cost of Addiction: United States Losing Billions to Drug Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug and alcohol use in the work place costs the U.S. economy more than $80 billion every year.


The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence found that 70 percent of the 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed — nearly 1 out of every 20 U.S. employees. Additionally, the majority of binge and heavy alcohol users are employed, and 24 percent of U.S. employees reported drinking on the job at least once in the past year. Employees who drank during work hours were also 2.7 times more likely to have injury-related absences than employees who do not drink during work, and 16 percent of emergency-room patients injured at work tested positive for having alcohol in their systems.

Studies also show that substance-using employees are more likely to change jobs frequently, be late or absent from work, be less productive, cause or be involved in potentially harmful workplace incidents, and file workers’ compensation claims. In addition to an individual’s job performance suffering as a result of their substance use, the work performance of their family members may also be affected.

“Family members living with someone’s alcoholism or drug use may also suffer significant job performance related problems — including absenteeism, lack of focus, increased health-related problems and use of health insurance,” according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Substance use is more common in certain occupational industries than in others. According to SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality Report on substance use by occupational industries by Dr. Donna Bush and Dr. Rachel Lipari, people who work in the mining and construction industry have the highest tendency to abuse alcohol, while individuals who work in the accommodations and food services industry and the arts, entertainment and recreation industry are most likely to use illicit drugs.

“The overall rate of past year substance use disorder among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 was 9.5 percent,” according to the CBHSQ Report. “Rates of past year substance use disorder ranged from 16.9 percent among workers in the accommodations and food services industry to 5.5 percent among workers in the educational services industry.”

Although substance use in the workplace remains a problem in the U.S., there are effective ways to combat the issue. According to the National Center on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that aim to promote employee health are helpful in addressing substance abuse in the work place.

“EAPs deal with all the kinds of problems and provide short-term counseling, assessment and referral of employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems, emotional and mental health problems, marital and family problems, financial problems, dependant care concerns and other personal problems that can affect the employee’s work.”


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