7 Facts About Substance Abuse Every EAP Professional Should Know

Employee Assistance Programsand Mental Health

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have the potential to be powerful ammunition on the frontlines of addiction and mental health issues in the workforce. As more companies begin to rely on EAPs to help alleviate barriers to timely, affordable behavioral healthcare services, it’s important that EAP professionals are up to speed on some key facts about substance abuse.

#1 Some Occupations Pose Higher Risks for Substance Abuse.

People employed in certain industries are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. The most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has miners topping the drinkers’ list, with 17.5% of surveyed miners reporting at least one instance of heavy alcohol use – defined as five or more drinks in two hours at least five times in one month. Following in second and third place were construction workers (16.5%) and hospitality and food services workers (11.8%). Hospitality and food services workers came in first for illicit drug use at 19.1%, followed by those in arts, entertainment and recreation jobs (13.7%) and people with management positions (12.1%).

Even jobs considered to be at the top of the career food chain are plagued with substance abuse. Research published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that 20.6% of 12,825 attorneys who participated in a 2016 study abused alcohol. Some research shows that 10 to 12% of physicians will develop an alcohol or drug addiction during their career.

#2 EAPs Are a Best Kept Secret.

Employee assistance programs are a win-win for everyone. They can help connect workers with life-saving addiction and mental health treatment and are also cost effective for the employer. Some EAP experts have calculated the overall ROI for employers at between $3 and $10 for every dollar spent on employee assistance program services.

Unfortunately, research suggests EAPs are underutilized. The Employee Assistance Society of North America found that only 3.9% of employees took advantage of EAP clinical assessments or counseling services in the span of one year. A 2014 study by international professional services company Towers Watson found that only 5% of employees used EAPs for stress management, though stress is a top concern in the workforce. The World Health Organization has even crowned stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century,” estimating that it costs employers around $300 billion per year.

#3 Over Half of Addicts Relapse.

Drug and alcohol rehab is not a cure for addiction; it’s usually a starting point. Some research shows alcohol and drug relapse rates as high as 60%, which is in line with relapse rates for other chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process that requires significant lifestyle changes and ongoing attentiveness to underlying mental health issues, trauma and situational factors that can drive substance abuse. Many addiction professionals view relapse as a natural part of recovery, and an opportunity to strengthen one’s sobriety through lessons learned from the relapse.

#4 Addiction Has Many Partners in Crime.

Addiction is a complex, chronic brain disease that requires specialized treatment. This is, in part, because underlying trauma and co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and personality disorders are often driving addictions. Research shows that people with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from substance use disorders as those without these conditions.

It’s not uncommon for a person to be battling two or more addictions at once. For example, a compulsive gambler might also have an alcohol use disorder. Someone with bulimia could be abusing drugs or alcohol as well as suffering from an intimacy or sex addiction disorder. This is why the psychological and behavioral components of treatment are so important. When people address the root causes of their addictions, it can curb their urge to numb emotional pain with destructive behaviors.

#5 Substance Abuse Impacts a Company’s Bottom Line.

Drug-related issues cost employers around $81 billion a year, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Costs are due to absences, reduced productivity, fatalities, injuries, theft, workers compensation claims, and health care and legal costs. Employee assistance programs may not only offset these costs, but can also save employers expenses associated with terminating employees, loss of institutional knowledge and training new employees.

#6 Addictions Come In All Shapes and Sizes.

Addiction can be defined as a pattern of destructive behaviors a person continues to engage in despite negative consequences. People cope with problems through a number of means beyond drugs and alcohol. Food, gambling, technology, shopping, sex and porn are also abused by people seeking relief from emotional pain.

#7 You’re Helping People.

Though EAPs might be underutilized, the people who are accessing these resources experience positive benefits. There are limited EAP clinical studies and success has historically been measured through anecdotal evidence, but the research that has been done is promising. One study by The Federal Occupational Health program surveyed 60,000 EAP clients over a three-year period. Clients who participated in EAP counseling services reported a 73% reduction in low productivity related to emotional issues and a 62% reduction in unscheduled absences or tardiness. A 2012 study by the Institute of Health and Productivity Management found that EAP clinical services positively impacted absenteeism, presenteeism (not fully functioning on the job due to poor health, exhaustion, etc.), work engagement, life satisfaction and workplace distress.

Today’s employee assistance programs have evolved since the 1940s when they were created to aid in post-World War II alcohol abuse. They now offer even more behavioral health services and addiction intervention resources. As companies and employees face mounting healthcare costs, EAPs will continue to play a critical role in promoting a healthy economy and workforce.

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