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Substance abuse in the workplace can become a serious issue. It can lead to accidents that can be potentially fatal. In addition, it can lead to increased absences, violence at work, sleeping on the job and poor work performance. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a 2006 survey showed that work-related impairments due to alcohol use affected 15 percent of workers in the United States. In 1998, the costs related to alcohol abuse totaled nearly $185 billion.

These statistics show that managers and supervisors have a responsibility to look for signs of substance abuse at work and intervene. According to the United States Department of Labor, although it is not the job of supervisors to identify drug and alcohol use in the workplace, it is their responsibility to ensure productivity levels are being met and that employees are informed when their performance begins to suffer.

Supervisors have a responsibility to be knowledgeable of the company’s rules regarding substance abuse in the workplace. They should know the effects of drug and alcohol use and how they can affect not only the user, but other employees as well. In addition, supervisors should know how to refer an employee to appropriate treatment for their addiction.


When an employee’s substance abuse becomes evident, a supervisor needs to step in and discuss the situation with the employee. There are several steps that the supervisor should take to address the situation. First, the supervisor needs to remain in control. Focus on the employee’s work performance, not their drug use. The supervisor should also be firm and make sure that the employee understands the company’s rules regarding low performance and substance abuse in the workplace. The supervisor should also list consequences should the behavior continue.

The supervisor should also be supportive. They should help by offering referrals to counselors or treatment centers; however, the supervisors should avoid emotional involvement.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the workplace is often used as a setting for substance abuse interventions because those who work full time spend a large portion of their time at work. Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that can help employees with personal issues, including those related to substance abuse.

Companies primarily focus on brief interventions and web interventions. Brief interventions provide an assessment of the employee’s substance abuse. They provide feedback, stress the importance of responsibility and offer options for treatment. Web interventions are computer-based and allow employees to access these services at any time. They include feedback and interviewing.

*Occupations With Highest Percentages of Alcohol Use

Some types of jobs are more likely to lead to alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, here are the occupations with the highest percentages of workers ages 18 to 64 engaging in heavy alcohol use from 2002 to 2004.

  • Construction (15.9 percent)
  • Arts and entertainment (13.6 percent)
  • Mining (13.3 percent)
  • Food services (12 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (11.5 percent)

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