Last week was National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. The week calls attention to the risks and consequences of drug and alcohol misuse, particularly for young people. Alcohol and drug misuse is a national problem that costs thousands of lives and an estimated $740 billion annually for business and taxpayers.
To gain some expert insights into what employers need to be aware of to reduce their risks regarding substance abuse and maintain drug free workplaces, we spoke with one of Espyr’s subject matter experts, Elise Antrobus, LCSW, CCTP. Ms Antrobus heads up Espyr’s Client Services Team and a Department of Transportation (DOT) Qualified Substance Abuse Professional.
Q. What should employers expect from their EAP when it comes to substance abuse?
Ms. Antrobus: “The Client Services department at ESPYR works closely with managers and Human Resource staff in addressing problematic employee issues, such as violation of work polices and employee conduct/behavior. This is an integral and valuable part of the organization services our Employee Assistance Program provides to clients to help them maintain a safe and drug free workplace. According to research, successful drug free work environments provide their supervisory staff with education and assist in referring staff to programs such as employee assistance programs to address a range of issues that contribute to drug use.”
“We assist employers in creating safe, drug free environments by providing managers with consultation regarding concerns of an employee and other critical incidents that can occur in the workplace, such as a workplace death. ESPYR also offers drug free workplace training for managers to educate them on what resources are available for employees. Ultimately, when an employer makes the decision to call Client Services for advice, it allows the manager to “stay in their role” and allows the Employee Assistance Program to address employee personal issues confidentially and professionally. “
Q. Early intervention is important. Without expecting Managers to be diagnosticians, are there early signs of alcohol or drug problems that Managers or HR professionals may notice in the workplace that might indicate a possible problem?
Ms. Antrobus: “When it comes to substance use, the signs or symptoms may not readily “show up at work.” Many employees deal with their issues in isolation. However, many employers should note concerns when an employee starts having absentee problems, changes in their quality of work, showing up late, or disappearing acts during “on the job attendance” whereby the employee is nowhere to be found. With substance misuse, the psychological denial of the user usually means others – co-workers or managers – may notice the problem long before the user acknowledges it. So, it’s not uncommon that co-workers or even customers may also begin coming to management with complaints about an employee’s behavior. Other signs may be physical and include jaundice, flushed skin, disheveled appearance, smelling of substance, blood shot eyes, unsteady gait, emotional outburst/mood swings, withdrawing from peers, and general deviations from the employee’s typical behavior.”
“Some industries where accidents can endanger the public, such as trucking, aviation, railroads, pipelines, or companies which deal with hazardous materials have mandated testing requirements to ensure workplace safety. While drug testing can serve as an indicator of usage, employers should be careful in not singling out an employee to take a test, simply because they may act as if they are under the influence. Even though they appear to be under the influence of something, they may not be. Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, employees with serious physical disabilities, prescribed medications, or a history of addiction have protections and can be provided reasonable accommodations to assist with their recovery. Ultimately, early intervention and cognizance of the problem will lead to better success with the employee’s treatment. We’ve found that in most cases, managers are genuinely concerned about their employees’ health and wellbeing, and thus will seek help sooner than later.
Q. When a Human Resources Manager or a Supervisor contacts Espyr to refer a client what happens next?
Ms. Antrobus: “Once the employee is referred, we can assist the client in connecting with a mental health professional to receive free assessments, alcohol and drug education, short term therapy, and referrals for further treatment or follow up. We will not only assist in identifying the drug or alcohol problem, but also help the client in addressing some of the underlying issues causing or contributing to the problem. Those could be family issues, stress, or other non-work related issues. Studies have shown that despite the fact that most adults who suffer from substance use issues are employed relatively few are referred to mental health agencies. This fact highlights our perception that employers want to stay out of their employee’s personal issues. Having an EAP will increase the opportunity that the employee will be able to access treatment.”
“After treatment, many employees will gain insight into their behaviors and acknowledge their problem. One employee we worked with, when first referred to the Employee Assistance Program, did not believe he had an issue. The employee received an assessment that made him aware of an issue with alcohol, and he was then referred to outpatient treatment (most substance abuse issues can be treated on an outpatient basis.) The employee successfully completed treatment and showed improvement in their relationships, both personal and in the workplace. When an employee completes treatment, they will become healthier, more focused at work and physically have more energy and stamina. They often become champions of recovery and go on to assist and support others in their recovery.”
Q. Is there a good resource for business leaders to learn more?
Ms. Antrobus: I recommend employers review the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) and additional articles that can be found on the Espyr website. The SAMSA website also offers free toolkits to assist employers in completing a needs assessment in determining the types of substance use problems their workplace may be facing. SAMSA will provides employers, guidance on what they can ask employees about drug use to ensure ADA compliance. While it may be beneficial to have an outside professional help in evaluating your workplace needs, employers can also use available research in devising cost-effective strategies. Sometimes the best support an employer can provide to their staff is to know how to access resources when needed.
If you would like more information on how an Employee Assistance Program can best support your company in achieving a drug free environment, please reach out to Ms. Antrobus directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Authors
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
Unwanaobong “Wana” Udoko is a graduate intern at Espyr. She is a first-year student in the Master of Science in Social Work program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She also works at the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a counselor on the National Veterans’ Suicide Prevention helpline.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.