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alcohol, marijuana and cocaine are the most abused drugs in the workplace.
July 17, 2017

The 3 Most Commonly Abused Drugs in the Workplace

alcohol, marijuana and cocaine are the most abused drugs in the workplace.More and more Americans aren’t just taking their lunch to work … the three most popular drugs of choice among U.S. workers may surprise you. Learn what they are here, along with their risks:

In addition to the use of millennial and smart drugs, workplace substance abuse is a cause for concern more recently. Drug and alcohol abuse is a common workplace reality in America, as evidenced by the following statistics:

  • Almost half of Americans entering the workforce have used an illicit drug at least once in the past year, according to data from USA Mobile Drug Testing.
  • 70 percent of Americans (or seven out of 10 people) who use illicit drugs are employed, by the estimate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
  • The NCADD also cited national survey findings that revealed 24% of workers reportedly drank during the workday at least once in the past year.
  • More than 30 percent of working Americans reportedly engage in binge drinking.
  • Drug abuse reportedly accounts for 50 percent of all on-the-job accidents.

This article will introduce readers to the three most commonly abused drugs in the workplace and how they impact on-the job health and safety.

Alcohol in the Workplace

Between alcohol and drugs, alcohol is the single most used and abused drug in America, so it is probably not surprising that alcohol is also one of the three most commonly abused drugs in the workplace, with on-the-job drinking accounting for a high proportion of occupational injuries. The following data from the NCADD helps to illustrate the prevalence of drinking in the workforce and its consequences for the on-the-job health, safety, and productivity of professionals in the workplace:

  • A national survey of U.S. workers found that in the prior year, 15.3% of the U.S. workforce reported drinking before work, drinking during work hours, or working under the influence of alcohol.
  • 35 percent of patients admitted to the emergency room for an injury at work were at-risk drinkers, according to one study, and among these ER-admitted employees, 16 percent were drinking at the time of the injury or accident, as evidenced by a breathalyzer test.
  • 11 percent of workplace fatalities involved alcohol.
  • And, a staggering 20 percent of workers and managers from a wide range of industries and business sectors reported that a coworker’s on-or-off-the-job drinking jeopardized their own safety and productivity.

Meanwhile, alcoholics who go without addiction treatment for their disease suffer from rates of absenteeism that are anywhere from four to eight times those of the general population, according to a report by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Family members of alcoholics are absent from work at similarly high rates.

The resulting costs to employers from absenteeism and other alcohol-related problems are estimated to range from $33 billion to $68 billion per year, the OPM reports.

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Marijuana in the Workplace

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the workplace. With growing trends in the direction of legalization and greater public acceptance, the drug reportedly has enjoyed dramatically rising rates of use and abuse. A survey from the National institutes of Health found, for example, rates of marijuana use and addiction more than doubled between 2001 and 2013. (With respect to rates of addiction, these are higher than what many may be inclined to think: among adults, the rate of addiction is one in 11; but among people younger than 16, the rate of addiction is one in 6.)

Marijuana-related absenteeism can also pose a significant cost to employers. 15 percent of past-month marijuana users said that at some point during the last 30 days, they didn’t show up for work because “they just didn’t want to be there,” according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Poorer motivation to work is, in fact, a consequence of using marijuana, studies say. For instance, a Norwegian study found that long-term users of the drug reported feeling less dedicated to their job than non-users. The lead researcher of that study, quoted in a white paper published by National Families in Action, summarized the study’s conclusion: “that people who quit smoking cannabis increase their work commitment, and people who take up smoking cannabis reduce their work commitment.”

The same white paper goes on to quantify the link between marijuana use and employment-related injuries, accidents, absenteeism and lower performance. Employees who tested positive for marijuana have:

  • 55 percent more industrial accidents
  • 85 percent more injuries
  • Workplace accident rates that are 75 percent higher than those who test negative for marijuana.

Cocaine in the Workplace

Cocaine follows marijuana as the next most popular illicit drug of abuse in the workplace. A July 2017 article in The Chicago Tribune reported that cocaine abuse in the workplace was actually at “a 12-year high.” (A similar trend reportedly describes rates of marijuana, amphetamine and heroin use in the workplace.)

One percent of employed Americans use cocaine, according to a 2011 study of illicit drug use in the workplace.

At least one study into the injury risks associated with cocaine use may have implications for the workplace. There the researchers found that cocaine was at play in roughly 30 percent of all cases of intentional injury (primarily homicides) and roughly 5 percent of injured drivers.

If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol that is affecting your health or job performance and/or jeopardizing the health and safety of others in the workplace, treatment can help. Call the National Substance Abuse Hotline for a referral or contact our admissions counselors today. 

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