Up to 2 million Australians are living with a substance use disorder with 75% of those struggling with addiction to alcohol, pain medication, marijuana and other substances are employed. Workers with substance use disorders miss nearly 50% more work days than their peers – up to six weeks annually – and absenteeism leads to losses in productivity.

Substance use disorders are estimated to cost the Australian economy up to $40 billion a year with many employers failing to recognize the scope of the problem. Research suggests that 39% of employers viewed prescription drug use as a threat to safety but just 24% said it is a problem. Findings:

  1. The construction, entertainment, recreation and food service sectors have twice the national average of employees with substance use disorders
  2. Industries dominated by women or older adults had a two-thirds lower rate of substance abuse
  3. Industries that have higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also had more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders
  4. Employers are most concerned about the ability to hire qualified workers (93%) and the costs of workers’ compensation (84%) – but less concerned over drug misuse (67%) and illegal drug sale or use (61%)
  5. Workers in recovery have lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss work days, less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer doctor visits

Employers can take simple steps to protect themselves and their employees:

  • Recognize prescription drugs impact the bottom line
  • Enact strong company drug policies
  • Expand drug panel testing to include opioids
  • Train supervisors and employees to spot the first signs of drug misuse
  • Treat substance abuse as a disease
  • Leverage Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help employees return to work