Substance Use and the Workplace

Substance Use and the Workplace

How common is substance use in the workplace?

According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75% of adults with substance use disorder are in the US workforce. With the additional stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent reports showed a 13% increase in substance use in order to cope (Lyra).

As we take these figures a step further, we also see this presence of addiction in the veterinary profession. The AVMA’s Wellness Committee estimated that up to 13% of veterinarians have a substance use disorder.

How can we identify and recognize substance use in our workplace?

Many who struggle with substance use may try to hide their disorder and distance themselves from peers at work. However, another indicator may be a decline in work performance. We can identify the following common signs in the workplace:

  • Frequently arriving to work late, using an unusual amount of paid time off, or having unexplained absences
  • Missing deadlines, having difficulty concentrating or following instructions, or making unusually careless mistakes
  • Being involved in accidents on the job
  • Having conflict with co-workers or managers more often, withdrawing from others, or displaying mood changes
  • Taking longer or more frequent breaks or disappearing for unknown or vague reasons
  • Avoiding interactions with others or being reluctant to schedule meetings and other events immediately following breaks
  • Showing physical signs of intoxication or withdrawal, such as slow or uncoordinated movement, bloodshot eyes, sweating, or restlessness
  • Drowsiness or having trouble staying awake at work
  • Declining personal hygiene, unexplained weight changes, or other physical changes
  • Borrowing money or having unexplained financial problems

What can we do to support those with substance use disorder?

A major component of supporting those seeking help for their addiction is to destigmatize the culture surrounding substance use. Another component is understanding what resources are available within the workplace to start the recovery process. Examples of resources employers can provide include mental health services offered through insurance, outpatient programs, and confidential professional counselors. Is the staff aware of these resources? Are these resources readily available to employees seeking them? Should these be updated and/or improved?

How can we best prevent substance misuse in the workplace?

We can start by implementing appropriate educational programs and policies that promote substance use awareness among staff. Additional examples of interventions that discourage the mishandling of substances are listed below:

  • Keep controlled substances locked up
  • Keep good dispensing records
  • Have a procedure in place for substance use violations
  • Report theft and losses to the local police and the DEA.
  • Install camera surveillance especially in the pharmacy area
  • Consider utilizing an automated inventory machine (such as CUBEX®)

Written by Souci Louis, VMD, MPH