So your employee just told you they have a substance abuse problem. Now what do you do?

It’s a scenario all managers and HR departments should prepare for, given the fact somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of your employees suffer from substance abuse disorders (SUDs), depending on the industry you are in.

From a financial perspective, it’s good business to support employees with SUDs. Businesses absorb a large portion of the cost associated with untreated SUDs – mainly healthcare costs and lost productivity due to absenteeism. Plus there are costs associated with the turnover of employees with SUDs who cannot maintain a job. According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost to employers for recruiting and training replacement workers is 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary. SUDs in the workplace also contribute to 65 percent of on-the-job accidents and somewhere between 38 and 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims. From a culture perspective, employees struggling with SUD have an impact on the entire company – as coworkers struggle to pick up extra assignments or shifts, or find it challenging to work effectively with someone with addiction. 

From a human perspective, supporting workers with SUDs is the right thing to do. Someone with SUD is at risk financially and emotionally and their employer can play an important, front-line role in supporting them. 

Good news; prevention and treatment programs have been proven to be effective in improving worker productivity among employees with SUDs. When employees get help, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reports that unplanned absences decrease by 85 percent and discipline problems decrease by 75 percent. More good news; even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic we are all navigating, employers can offer safe and effective treatment for their employees who need it.

Today, thanks to telehealth, treatment is accessible to remote workforces and workers who are sheltering in place. In fact, telehealth is one of the most effective ways to reach and treat people with SUD. It’s also one of the most effective ways to support recovery. With a telehealth solution, people can seek and receive treatment from the privacy of their home.  Receiving treatment from a private, comfortable and familiar setting, reduces a major barrier to seeking help – that of feeling stigmatized by others.

All along, online treatment has been a practical option for employed people who may have been wondering how to get the help they need without signaling to their employers that there is a problem. Now it’s a practical solution for people who are practicing social distancing and unable to meet with a counselor face to face.

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