COVID’s Impact on Substance Abuse Disorders in the Workplace


Substance abuse disorders and addictions are not just bad for the people living with them. They are also devastating to the average workplace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly $80 billion in productivity is lost each year due to opioid addictions. When factoring productivity lost to other substances and healthcare costs paid by employers to treat employees struggling with a dangerous addiction, the total amount is calculated to be at least $740 billion per year, estimates the American Addiction Centers. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic extending lockdowns and increasing the pervasive feeling of isolation and hopelessness, substance abuse disorders and their impacts on the average workplace are expected to only worsen in 2021.

Substance Abuse Spikes in the Pandemic

Only a few months into the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns across the country, four-out-of-five states had already seen opioid overdose deaths increase as more and more people struggling with opioid addiction fell into worsening habits. A survey from revealed that 33% of its participants admitted to using drugs or alcohol while working since the start of the pandemic. It can be assumed that this percentage should actually be higher because there will always be survey participants who will not admit to doing something that might embarrass them, even when the survey is anonymous.

Another unexpected consequence of the COVID pandemic shifting many workers to remote positions is the new inability for supervisors, managers, and coworkers to easily check-in with one another. Many people who are abusing drugs or alcohol at work are first noticed by other people in the workplace, who then start the process of helping them find a recovery method that works for them. With people working remotely and only seeing each other through teleconferencing apps like Zoom, spotting telltale signs of substance abuse disorder is much more difficult.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is also worried about what lockdown conditions, social isolation, and remote working could do to relapse rates among people with substance abuse disorders. The group estimates that about 50% of all people who are fighting substance abuse will relapse each year. The rate could increase due to pressures and stress that have been heightened by the pandemic and worsened by the lack of a supportive workplace.

What Employers Can Do to Help

Employers in all industries should be doing their best to help their employees overcome substance abuse disorders. Doing so could save that employee’s life or wellbeing. From a purely capitalistic standpoint, though, it is also good for business because it will increase productivity and lower employee turnover costs.

If you are an employer and you are worried about a worker – remote or otherwise – who might be struggling with substance abuse disorders, then the first thing you can do is let them know. It is important to be there for them and let them know that you want to help. Do not take the approach that they should be penalized for their disease. Not only can this worsen the situation for them, but it might also constitute an employment law violation.

Next, you can look for local addiction rehabilitation centers that might interest your employee. In Arizona, employers and employees alike trust Decision Point Center for comprehensive and compassionate substance abuse treatment programs and therapies. We have been changing lives since 2004, and many of our recovery models have been updated to accommodate social distancing requirements during the pandemic. If you want to know more about what we do to empower people to recover from addiction, please contact us online or call (844) 292-5010 at any time.