A May Day Message for Workers Struggling with Alcohol and Drug Abuse

The May Day holiday has taken different forms and has been associated with many different events throughout history, one of the most prominent of which is International Workers Day. The relationship between May Day and the rights of workers dates back to the 19th century, when, on this day in 1886, more than 300,000 workers from 13,000 businesses waked in the face of collective mistreatment. Despite its roots in American history, the United States does little in the way of observance compared to the other 65 countries who have dedicated a National Holiday. Why the history lesson? Because on the day that’s meant to celebrate workers’ rights and wellbeing, it’s critical to recognize a new struggle that has emerged in practically every industry; alcohol and drug abuse.

Data from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence indicates that 70 percent of All Americans who use illicit drugs are employed. Despite the rising rates of workplace substance abuse, many employers still find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the work-related origins, sustaining factors and consequences that can contribute to this issue. The grim reality is that the American workforce just wasn’t ready for the epidemic of addiction that has recently claimed so many of its members, and rendered millions vulnerable to death, serious injury and long-term poverty on a daily basis. Regardless of how prepared employers may or may not have been, drug and alcohol addiction is here…and it’s inserted itself in our offices, construction sites, restaurants and everywhere else we do business every day.

Conditions and Industries Contributing to Workers’ Drug and Alcohol Abuse

While many, if not most workers develop drug or alcohol addiction through independent circumstances, and simply end up having their addiction take over their careers and every other aspect of their lives, many succumb to substance abuse as a result of physically taxing, emotionally draining and downright hazardous working conditions. The American Institute of Stress reports that 40 percent of employees says their job was extremely stressful, 25 percent list their job as the primary stressor in their lives, and three quarters believe that workplace stress is worse than it was a generation ago. Nearly half of all workers who experience stress say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42% say their coworkers need such help

From the laborer who hurts his back and winds up abusing prescription painkillers, to the executive whose career and livelihood hinges on drinks with colleagues and potential clients, to the tech worker who takes prescription stimulants to pull multiple consecutive all-nighters to every other type of worker that relies on “a little something extra” to get through the day, it’s impossible to ignore the reality that sometimes our employees are “just fine” until they start working in their fields.

Even if it’s not factors in their industry, specifically, that’s leading to self-medication, certain company-related culture specifics, such as unrealistic deadlines, draconian and punitive “accountability” measures, and other toxic elements of workplace culture, can play a significant role in the onset and continuation of excessive drinking and drug use among American workers. Factors like constant workplace bullying, marginalization, discrimination, as well as persistent fear of losing one’s job and other daily struggles with which the average American worker has to contend, can easily lead to anxiety, depression and trauma for which many inevitably turn to drugs or alcohol to cope each day.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that the highest rates of heavy alcohol use among full-time workers aged 18 to 64 are found in the mining and construction industries, and that The highest rates of illicit drug use were found in the accommodations and food services industry. The workers in the accommodations and food services industry also tend to have the highest rates of diagnosable substance use disorder.

Protecting Your Employees Before, During and After Substance Use Disorder

Contrary to decades of perception, media depiction and cultural stigma, addiction is not a moral failing into which sufferers enter willingly. It is a chronic and diagnosable condition for which comprehensive medical and behavioral intervention is needed; before it gets to that point, however, it is helpful to understand and identify certain factors within your workplace culture that can lead to substance use disorder. Creating a culture that fosters compassion, positive motivation, employee advocacy, recognition and empathy can severely decrease stress among your employees. Sometimes, however, that is not always enough, and it’s critical that your organization is quick to mobilize in the event of excessive employee drug or alcohol abuse.

Having a designated and defined procedure for dealing with workplace substance use has become a necessary reality for all organizations. This means moving past a punish-first-and-ask-questions-later approach and recognizing that the vibrant, committed and capable employee that you once hired is suffering, whatever the cause may be, and that they need treatment; this is one of the reasons why Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for addiction treatment have become increasingly vital in the American workplace. Aligning with a quality and reputable treatment organization that is equipped to deal with your employees’ treatment needs is an integral part of that process.

Extending the Legacy of May Day

As we take this May Day to observe the immense value and vital successes of the United States workforce, it is only fitting that we recognize one of the primary public health issues facing working Americans in all industries. If we’re serious about preserving and maintaining the health and happiness of the professionals who make our lives better, easier, and frankly, possible on a daily basis, there needs to be mechanisms in place by which they can get a second chance after suffering an increasingly common setback.

Recovery Unplugged offers quality, comprehensive treatment for alcohol and drug use disorder, and is ready to help your employees get the treatment they need for the second chance they deserve. Contact us today for more information on how we can help.