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Substance Use in the Workplace

Substance Use in the Workplace

Substance use in the workplace exacts a heavy toll, including high (and escalating) costs for employers through decreased productivity, increased sick days and absenteeism, and higher risk of on-the-job accidents and deaths. As the world continues grappling with the pandemic, substance use is on the rise, with one study reporting a 60 percent increase in drinking due to COVID-19-related stress.

Addiction also impacts people beyond the workplace, and can cause untold heartache for employees and their families. In 2017, 36 percent of children entering foster care were placed because of their parents’ drug addiction—and as of June 2020, 13 percent of Americans said they started using substances or increased their use in order to cope. Additionally, the stress of the pandemic has spurred increases in drug overdoses—by as much as 42 percent in May 2020 compared to May 2019.

People with substance use disorders (SUD) face significant stigma and often don’t receive the treatment they need. While 8 percent of people report needing treatment for substance use disorders, only 1.5 percent receive it. Employees with substance use disorders are twice as likely to have another mental health condition such as depression or anxiety—a combination that requires specialized treatment.

The toll of addiction in the workplace

Problems related to substance use in the workplace can exact a heavy toll. Substance use costs employers over $400 billion each year and presents a host of challenges including:

Employee suffering

Addiction can cause significant emotional distress for employees using substances and their families. Employees with a substance use disorder may struggle with using more than one substance. They’re also twice as likely as the general population to have another mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Family members are also profoundly affected by a loved one’s substance use. Addiction can cause economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and other struggles that impact the entire family.

Higher health care costs

Substance use disorders contribute to escalating health care costs and use of emergency services. People with drug or alcohol problems are more likely to be hospitalized and stay longer than people without these conditions. They also visit the emergency department twice as much as their peers. A Lyra Health survey of a Fortune 500 company found that health care spending was four to 10 times higher for employees with an alcohol use disorder.

Fortunately, treatment has been proven to reduce health care costs for employees and their families. Employees in recovery from substance use have lower health care utilization and costs, saving employers an average of $536 per employee per year.

Reduced productivity

Absenteeism among employees with alcohol problems is up to 8 times greater than other workers. Alcohol use disorders alone account for an estimated 500 million lost workdays each year. Whereas workers typically miss 10 days of work for unscheduled leave per year, employees struggling with drug use and related problems miss about 15 days. Those with a pain medication use disorder miss 29 days per year on average.

Higher turnover

Turnover is common among employees with substance use disorders. Thirty-six percent of employees with substance use disorders have had more than one employer in the past year, compared to 25% of employees without a substance use disorder. Depending on the industry, companies that invest in drug or alcohol treatment resources may save an estimated $500 to $4,000 per employee in turnover and replacement costs.

Coworker safety

One in five workers say they’ve been injured or put in danger because of a coworker’s drinking, or needed to work harder or for longer periods of time because their coworker couldn’t complete a task due to addiction in the workplace. When employees don’t feel safe at work, employee morale can suffer.

How to mitigate the impact of substance use in the workplace

Employers play an important role in preventing and identifying substance use in the workplace, and connecting employees to resources that can help. Some of the steps employers can take to support workers struggling with drug and alcohol use and mitigate the impact of addiction in the workplace include:

  • Reducing stigma, which creates an environment where people understand substance use disorders and feel comfortable asking for help
  • Promoting a drug-free workplace through education, training, and effective policies
  • Learning some of the signs of substance use, so that managers can recognize when an employee may be struggling and connect them to available resources
  • Making the process of getting help simple and effective

The value of treating substance use disorders

Addiction is a serious condition that, without treatment, can become more costly throughout many dimensions of a person’s life. Employees struggling with substance use often face overwhelming barriers to care at a time when they need it most. Making it easier to access specialized, coordinated, and evidence-based care makes it possible for them to get the support and treatment they need before problems get worse.

Effective treatment for substance use disorders provides potentially life-saving care for employees while reducing employer costs. Research shows total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to one. On average, treatment can save companies $3,200 to $8,400 for each employee who recovers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “Drug addiction treatment has been shown to reduce associated health and social costs by far more than the cost of the treatment itself.”

More important than the financial savings of treatment, however, is the impact it can make for people struggling with substance use disorders, allowing them to access safe and effective treatment.

Learn more about the ways to prevent, identify, and address addiction in the workplace. Download our guide.


If you want help connecting with a coach or therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.

For employers who want to learn more about the value and impact of a mental health benefit, download our white paper or get in touch.

And check in frequently here or follow us on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for more insights into supporting employees’ mental health.


  1. A Substance Use Cost Calculator for US Employers With an Emphasis on Prescription Pain Medication Misuse
  2. Lyra Health survey of a Fortune 500 company
  3. Alcoholism In The Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors
  4. The Workplace Impact of Alcohol Use Disorders
  5. Drug Testing & Safety: What’s the Connection?
  6. Data on Opioids in the Workplace
About the reviewer
Kendall Browne, PhD

Dr. Browne is a program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health and a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Browne has over a decade of experience in the development, evaluation, and use of evidence-based interventions for mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, trauma-related disorders, and substance use disorders. Prior to joining Lyra, Dr. Browne conducted research and supported local and national education and clinical training initiatives as the associate director, training and education for the Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence in substance addiction treatment and education.

About the author
Meghan Vivo

Meghan Vivo is a content marketing strategy manager at Lyra Health, where she helps transform mental health care through education, outreach, and storytelling. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Irvine, with a minor is psychology and a juris doctor degree from Syracuse University. Meghan has worked in health care marketing for 15 years, specializing in behavioral health.

Clinically reviewed by
Kendall Browne, PhD
Program Manager, Workforce Transformation
30 of November 2021 - 5 min read
Mental health at work
Mental health conditions
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