The first step is problem identification. Drug and alcohol abuse are the nation's number one health problem and the biggest detriment to productivity levels. Substance abuse is detrimental to both the employer and the employee. The cost of employees' substance abuse to business has been well documented. Drug and alcohol abuse is costing American business $39.1 billion annually in lost productivity; the human economic cost may well exceed $100 billion a year. The employer pays with lowered productivity, increased health care costs, increased accidents and absenteeism, and in many instances eventual loss of a valuable employee. The employee pays with the loss of his or her health, increased financial and family problems, loss of respect, and often his or her job (Ammerman 1999).
According to some reports, about one fifth of the workforce may be affected by personal problems of one kind or another. Whether caused by substance abuse difficult working conditions, or personal problems at home, the effects of these problems on productivity can be high, and the costs to the employer can be great. Further, some kinds of "disabilities" may be protected by law from arbitrary employer reaction. Employee assistance programs have become increasingly common means for confronting these problems in a constructive, legal manner. There are a variety of issues, though, to be addressed if supervisors are to be able to take effective advantage of intervention programs.
Risk Factors associated with Substance Abuse at Workplace
The main risk factors associated with substance abuse at the workplace are injuries and safety concerns. On the one hand, alcohol abuse increases the risk of cancer at several sites. Most notably, abuse is responsible for 75 percent of the deaths from cancer of the esophagus and 50 percent of those from cancer of the larynx and the lip/oral cavity/pharynx. It also contributes to cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive system diseases and to fatal mental disorders. Not all alcohol-related injury deaths involve alcohol abusers; simple misuse is sometimes the culprit. Reviewing accidental deaths in New Jersey, Haberman found that although 53 percent of traffic fatalities and 47 percent of nontraffic fatalities showed evidence of alcohol use, that is the decedent had a Blood Alcohol Count (BAC) of 0.01 percent or greater, autopsies revealed that only 34 percent of the accident victims with positive BACs were alcoholics. Another interesting finding was that 29 percent of the accidentally killed alcoholics had BACs of 0.00 percent--that is, they had not been drinking prior to their death. Yet their accidental death rate far exceeded that of nonalcoholics. Their physical and psychological characteristics, such as hangovers, seizures, visual disturbances, impulsiveness, distractability and aggressiveness, possibly make alcoholics more accident-prone even when sober. Roughly 20 percent of all alcohol-related deaths result from motor vehicle accidents (Ammerman 1999).
Alcohol is also implicated in intentional injury deaths. That it has been demonstrated to increase aggression and induce depression partly explains its involvement in 46 percent of the homicides and 28 percent of the suicides, totalling 9,107 and 8,552 respective deaths. A