Drug Testing and Substance Abuse

“I know all of my employees personally. Substance abuse isn’t a problem in our workplace.” “It would be obvious if one of our employees was using drugs or alcohol at work.” Fortunately, comments like these are no longer as common as they once were as a result of the significant strides that have been made in educating employers about substance abuse and how it can affect the workplace.

There is still, however, a great deal of denial as well as numerous misconceptions among many employers about who is using illicit drugs and alcohol, and how this can directly impact their bottom line. The following statistics and anecdotes are intended to further educate and inform employers about the prevalence of substance abuse in the workplace, the impact that it has on the workplace and employees, and the benefits that employers have experienced as the result of implementing prevention programs.

  • More than six percent of the population over 12 years of age (13.9 million people) has used drugs within the past thirty days. Rates of use remain highest among persons aged 16 to 25–the age group entering the work force most rapidly. 1
  • Seventy-three percent of all current drug users aged 18 and older (8.3 million adults) were employed in 1997. This includes 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers. 1
  • More than 14 percent of Americans employed full- and part-time report heavy drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on five or more days in the past 30 days. The heaviest drinking occurred among persons between the ages of 18 and 25 years.2 Of the 11.2 million heavy drinkers in 1997, 30 percent (3.3 million) also were current illicit drug users. 3
  • Construction workers (15.6%), sales personnel (11.4%), food preparation, wait staff, and bartenders (11.2%), handlers, helpers, and laborers (10.6%,) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use. Protective service workers reported the lowest rate of current drug use (3.2%). 4
  • The occupational categories with above-average rates of heavy alcohol use, in addition to construction, were handlers, helpers, and laborers (15.7%), machine operators and inspectors (13.5%), transportation and material movers (13.1%), precision production and repair workers (13.1%), and employees in food preparation, including wait staff and bartenders (12.2%). 4
  • According to a national survey conducted by the Hazelden Foundation, more than sixty percent of adults know people who have gone to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 5
  • In 1990, problems resulting from the use of alcohol and other drugs cost American businesses an estimated $81.6 billion in lost productivity due to premature death (37 billion) and illness (44 billion); 86% of these combined costs were attributed to drinking. 6
  • Full-time workers age 18-49 who reported current illicit drug use were more likely than those reporting no current illicit drug use to state that they had worked for three or more employers in the past year (32.1% versus 17.9%), taken an unexcused absence from work in the past month (12.1% versus 6.1%), voluntarily left an employer in the past year (25.8 % versus 13.6%), and been fired by an employer in the past year (4.6% versus 1.4%). Similar results were reported for employees who were heavy alcohol users. 7
  • According to results of a NIDA-sponsored survey, drug-using employees are 2.2 times more likely to request early dismissal or time off, 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more, three times more likely to be late for work, 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident, and five times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim. 8
  • Results from a U.S. Postal Service study indicate that employees who tested positive on their pre-employment drug test were 77 percent more likely to be discharged within the first three years of employment, and were absent from work 66 percent more often than those who tested negative.9
  • A survey of callers to the national cocaine helpline revealed that 75 percent reported using drugs on the job, 64 percent admitted that drugs adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent sold drugs to other employees, and 18 percent had stolen from co-workers to support their drug habit.10
  • Alcoholism causes 500 million lost workdays each year.12