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General Workplace Impact

Note: The following statistics should not be attributed to the U.S. Department of Labor, but rather their respective footnoted sources listed at the bottom of the page.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse in America Today

Although overall rates have not increased over the past several years, alcohol and drug abuse continues to afflict American society at the start of the 21st century.

  • An estimated 14.8 million Americans are current illicit drug users.1
  • Nearly 11 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 are current illicit drug users. Among this population, marijuana is the most prevalent drug of use.2
  • Young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 have the highest rate of current illicit drug use at roughly 20 percent.3
  • Heavy drinking occurs most frequently among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 (13.3 percent), peaking at age 21 (17.4 percent).4
  • The rate of current illicit drug use is higher among men (8.7 percent) than women (4.9 percent).5
  • Heavy drinking correlates strongly with illicit drug use. Of 12.4 million heavy drinkers, 30.5 percent are also current illicit drug users.6

America’s Workplaces at Risk

No business, regardless of size or location, is immune to the countless problems that alcohol and drug abuse can cause. Most individuals who abuse alcohol and other drugs are employed, and when they arrive for work, they don’t leave their problems outside the door.

  • Although the rate of current illicit drug use is higher among unemployed individuals, the vast majority of current illicit drug users in the US are employed. Of 12.3 million adult current illicit drug users, 9.4 million (77 percent) work.7
  • An estimated 6.5 percent of full-time and 8.6 percent of part-time workers are current illicit drug users.8
  • Alcohol is the most widely abused drug among working adults. An estimated 6.2 percent of adults working full time are heavy drinkers.9
  • More than one in three (38 percent) workers between the ages of 18 and 25 are binge drinkers.10
  • Among employed adults, the highest rates of heavy drinking and current illicit drug use are reported by white, non-Hispanic males who are between the ages of 18 and 25 and have less than a high school education.11
  • By occupation, the highest rates of current illicit drug use and heavy drinking were reported by food preparation workers, waiters, waitresses and bartenders (19 percent); construction workers (14 percent); service occupations (13 percent); and transportation and material moving workers (10 percent).12
  • More than 60 percent of adults know someone who has reported for work under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.13

Everyone Bears the Impact

Everyone involved in running a business—both employers and employees—suffers when there is workplace alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs are obvious, such as increased absences, accidents and errors. Others, such as low morale and high illness rates, are less so, but the effects are equally harmful.

  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work or cover for a co-worker or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee’s drinking.14
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism.15
  • Alcohol and drug abuse has been estimated to cost American businesses roughly 81 billion dollars in lost productivity in just one year—37 billion due to premature death and 44 billion due to illness. Of these combined costs, 86 percent are attributed to drinking.16
  • Alcoholism is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.17
  • Individuals who are current illicit drug users are more than twice as likely (9.3 percent) than those who are not (4.3 percent) to have changed employers three or more times in the past year.18
  • Individuals who are current illicit drug users are also more likely (12.9 percent) than those who are not (5 percent) to have skipped one or more work days in the past month.19
  • Similarly, individuals who are current heavy alcohol users are more likely (8 percent) than those who are not (4.4 percent) to have changed employers three or more times in the past year.20
  • Individuals who are current heavy alcohol users are also more likely (11.3 percent) than those who are not (5.1 percent) to have skipped one or more work days in the past month.21
  • Results from a US Postal Service study revealed that employees who tested positive in a pre-employment drug test are 66 percent more likely to be absent and 77 percent more likely to be discharged within three years than those who tested negative.22
  • Of callers to the National Cocaine Helpline, 75 percent admit to having used drugs on the job, 64 percent report that drugs have adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent say they have sold drugs to fellow employees and 18 percent say they have stolen from coworkers to support their drug habit.23

Small Businesses Most Vulnerable

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, small businesses have big disadvantages. They are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms that don’t have one, and the cost of just one error caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small company.
Among the population of full-time employed current illicit drug users:

  • 44 percent work for small establishments (1-24 employees)
  • 43 percent work for medium establishments (25-499 employees)
  • 13 percent work for large establishments (500 or more employees)24

Among the population of full-time employed heavy drinkers:

  • 36 percent work for small establishments
  • 47 percent work for medium establishments
  • 17 percent work for large establishments25

Endnotes:
1 US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2000). 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid
.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Programs: Results from the 1994 and 1997 NHSDA. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.
12 Ibid.
13 Hazeldon Foundation. (1996). Addiction in the Workplace Survey. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Foundation.
14 Mangione, T.W., et al. (1998). New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study. Boston, MA: JSI Research and Training Institute.
15 Bernstein, M. and Mahoney, J. (1989). Management Perspectives on Alcoholism: The Employer’s Stake in Alcoholism Treatment. Occupational Medicine, 4(2).
16 US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1995). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Statistics Sourcebook. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.
17 National Association of Treatment Providers. (1991). Treatment is the Answer: A White Paper on the Cost-Effectiveness of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Treatment. Laguna Hills, CA: National Association of Treatment Providers.
18 Supra note 11.
19 Supra note 11.
20 Supra note 11.
21 Supra note 11.
22 Normand, J., Salyards, S. and Maloney, J. (1990). An Evaluation of Pre-Employment Drug Testing. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(6).
23 National Cocaine Helpline. (1987). 1-800-COCAINE. Summit, NJ: National Cocaine Helpline.
24 Supra note 11.
25 Supra note 11.

Source:  U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy www.dol.gov./asp

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