Using the workplace for alcohol and drug abuse intervention

Using the workplace for alcohol and drug abuse intervention

The abuse of drugs and alcohol is a prevalent problem in Australia that leads to a number of different societal problems that could potentially damage the fabric of society. If gone unchecked, the abuse of substances could lead to physical, mental, financial, and societal problems as well as billions of dollars lost in productivity and absenteeism.

When alcohol and drugs are abused in the workplace, the results could be catastrophic. This is especially true in professions that involve the operation of heavy machinery, transportation, and other safety-sensitive equipment.

A recent study by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) found that most people who use drugs in Australia are employed. This has led to workplaces losing $2.9 billion annually in illicit drug-related absenteeism and $3.9 billion in alcohol-related absenteeism.

In this discussion, we uncover the facts and numbers behind alcohol and drug use among employed Australians and how the workplace can become an avenue for intervention.

Alcohol and drug use among working professionals by the numbers

From 2010 to 2019, the consumption of tobacco among Australians aged 14 and up decreased from 15.1% to 11%. This positive trend is also reflected in risky alcohol drinking, which decreased from 37.7% to 32% within the same time frame.

Most people who consume alcohol are low-risk drinkers, while those who abstain from alcohol altogether have increased from 19.9% in 2010 to 23.7% in 2019.

For context, low-risk alcohol use refers to individuals who consume no more than 10 standard drinks in a week or 4 standard drinks in a day. Risky alcohol use involves consuming more than 10 standard drinks a week or more than 4 standard drinks in a day.

Despite this positive trend in tobacco and alcohol, the consumption of illicit drugs has increased in the last decade from 14.7% to 16.3% as reported in the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey.

The use of ecstasy increased from 2.2% to 2.9% from 2016 to 2019, while the use of cocaine doubled from 2010 to 2019, shooting up to 4.2% from 2.1%. Consumption of cannabis is also seeing a steady rise.

From these statistics gathered, it was also found that the use of illicit drugs and the prevalence of risky drinking was highest among males aged 20 to 29.

In terms of skill level, illicit drug use was highest among trade workers, whereas the prevalence of risky alcohol consumption was highest among trade workers and managers. 

Effects of abuse of drugs and alcohol at the workplace

Obviously, consuming drugs and alcohol, especially in high doses, will lead to the impairment of essential skills such as coordination, tracking, vision, and even rational thinking. All of these would be necessary to go about one’s daily activities and responsibilities at home and, even more critically, at the workplace.

LEARN MORE: The effects of alcohol on driving

However, consuming drugs and alcohol at the workplace also endangers the livelihood and well-being of surrounding individuals, including customers and fellow employees.

Among Australian workers, 21% experienced verbal abuse by someone under the influence of alcohol, while 9% experienced the same from someone under the influence of illicit drugs.

On that same note, 13% and 7.7% of workers also felt intimidated by those under the influence of alcohol and drugs, respectively.

Between 21% to 28% of the abuse occurred at the workplace.

Public administration (29%) and safety workers (18%) experienced the highest prevalence of verbal abuse by those under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

These instances are in addition to the total of nearly $6 billion lost in alcohol and drug-related absenteeism.

Substance abuse and addiction will also lead to many different physical and mental health issues, including depression, an increased risk of self-harm, bipolar disorders, and more.

LEARN MORE: How alcohol addiction affects mental health

Groups that are susceptible to risky alcohol use and illicit drug use

From the statistics gathered, it was evident that alcohol, tobacco and other drugs were most prevalent in trade and unskilled workers, most notably within the construction industry. The construction industry recorded a higher prevalence of tobacco, risky alcohol consumption and illicit drug use than that of the national average. 

Other industries that recorded similar trends were accommodation and food services, and arts and recreational services, the former having a high prevalence for illicit drug consumption but an average prevalence for risky alcohol use.

Industries that recorded a lower prevalence of risky alcohol consumption include education and training, and health and social services.

Public administration, education and training, and healthcare and social services also recorded levels that were lower than the national average.

The table below depicts the prevalence of risky drinking and illicit drug use against the national average.

Risky alcohol use
Illicit drug use 
⬆️ Above average
⬆️ Above average
Arts and recreational services
⬆️ Above average ⬆️ Above average
Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services
⬆️ Above average ↔️ Within average
⬆️ Above average ↔️ Within average
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
⬆️ Above average ⬇️ Below average
Accommodation and food services
↔️ Within average ⬆️ Above average
Transport, portal and warehousing
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Administrative and support services
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Rental, hiring and real estate
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Retail trade
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Wholesale trade
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Financial and insurance services
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Information, media and telecommunications
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Professional, scientific and technical services
↔️ Within average ↔️ Within average
Public administration and safety
↔️ Within average ⬇️ Below average
Education and training
⬇️ Below average ⬇️ Below average
Healthcare and social assistance
⬇️ Below average ⬇️ Below average

The workplace as an avenue for drug and alcohol abuse intervention

Researchers found that 48% of those who drank at risky levels reported high levels of psychological distress. With that being said, many individuals turn to alcohol and drugs as a means to cope with stress, which could stem from their personal lives and spill into their professional lives.

This insight underscored the crucial role that the workplace can play in addressing alcohol and drug abuse. This sentiment is further strengthened by the NCETA’s study that showed most Australians who abuse alcohol and other drugs are working professionals. The workplace’s role in curbing substance abuse is underestimated despite there being a link between stress and risky substance consumption.

Creating a safer workplace that acts as an avenue for intervention against alcohol starts by creating an environment that is free from judgment. Managers and team leaders should be trained to recognise signs of substance abuse and create a space to discuss these issues without employees having to fear repercussions.

This will foster an environment that encourages open communication, support, and understanding, reducing the stigma around seeking help for substance abuse issues and encouraging peer support networks.

Regular health check-ups that include discussions about substance abuse and its effects will also encourage employees to prioritise their well-being and seek assistance when needed. Many organisations also conduct alcohol and drug screening at random intervals to identify employees who are working under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This helps employers remove them from their line of work to avoid any accidents and also to provide assistance to team members who are struggling with substance abuse.

Andatech offers specialised alcohol breathalysers and drug testing equipment and services to help organisations deter substance abuse in their premises for a safer working environment.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.

Written by Wafi Rashid

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