What To Know About The Cost of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Most people think of addiction as a personal issue, one that only affects individuals and their families. But substance abuse also greatly impacts society at large, costing us between $400 to $600 billion each year. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), our employers shoulder much of this expense and lose up to $120 billion annually through low productivity, absenteeism, high turnover and healthcare premiums.

If you’re a business owner, executive or upper-level manager, you’ve probably already seen the effects of substance abuse in the workplace first hand. Nearly 70% of addicts have either full or part-time jobs. But if you’re struggling with addiction yourself, you might not fully understand the consequences of your behavior. Here’s a breakdown of what substance abuse costs employers and how it impacts the bottom line.

Low Productivity

Addicts and alcoholics are 33% less productive than their sober colleagues, costing employers $25.5 billion annually. Lost productivity usually stems from the direct effects of substance abuse, which can make employees careless, distracted and unreliable. Workers preoccupied with getting a fix might fail to meet deadlines and take twice as long to get things done. If they show up high or drunk, they’re also more likely to get injured or endanger the welfare of others. This is especially a concern for professionals with high-stakes jobs, such as police officers, surgeons, first responders or pilots, where quick decision-making can mean the difference between life and death. Another common problem with addicted employees is absenteeism, which costs employers even more each year.


The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that addiction costs businesses $49 billion annually in reduced labor participation. On average, most people miss about 10 days of work per year due to injury, illness or other legitimate reasons, but employees with a substance use disorder miss 15 days a year, which is 50% more than their peers. Those struggling with an opioid or painkiller addiction are absent nearly three times as much.

Missed work days create serious problems for employers. Absenteeism can increase workloads and push back deadlines as others have to pick up the slack, reducing morale, productivity and job performance. It can also lead to understaffing issues and cost employers time and money to approve overtime or find replacements who may not be as well-trained as other workers.

High Turnover

When employees are drinking or using drugs on the job, chances are that company morale will suffer due to frequent absences, increased workloads and low productivity. Addicted workers cause problems for both themselves and others when they neglect their duties and behave erratically, creating unnecessary stress for their co-workers. This might cause some to feel resentful and dread coming into the office.

Low morale and a stressful environment can increase turnover, since employees that feel overworked are more likely to look for other career opportunities. Individuals with an untreated drug or alcohol problem also won’t stick around as long. Studies show that most workers (three-quarters) report having just one employer in the past 12 months, but this number falls to 67% when you look at addicted professionals. Those with an opioid use disorder are even more likely to leave their employers.

Since replacing workers requires recruiting, onboarding and training, this can get expensive quickly. There’s also an adjustment period during which productivity is usually lower. Experts put the cost of hiring and retaining employees at around 33% of a job’s annual salary.

Healthcare-Related Costs

Healthcare costs associated with substance abuse are estimated to set employers back $25 billion each year. Drugs and alcohol are hard on the body, so addicted workers typically require more medical attention than the general population. They’re also more likely to experience mental health problems as a direct result of their drinking or drug use. In fact, studies have found that more than half of addicts have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

This matters because nearly all large businesses offer individual insurance coverage. Employers pay on average 79% of insurance premiums, with workers paying the other 21%, in addition to fees, co-pays and deductibles. Based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), respondents with a substance abuse disorder used services that cost their employers $3.8k in healthcare premiums, compared to $2.3k of their non-addicted peers.

In the workplace, 65% of occupational accidents are also caused by drug or alcohol use, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Furthermore, nearly half of all workers’ comp claims are the result of being impaired or intoxicated on the job. This is especially true in industries that involve complex tasks or dangerous equipment and machinery.

Benefits of Recovery

Addressing substance abuse disorders in the workplace is usually in the best interest of employers and their staff. Sober individuals are less likely to leave their jobs or call in sick to nurse a hangover, resulting in fewer monetary losses for both parties. They also utilize fewer healthcare resources, perform better on job-related tasks and contribute to a healthy, supportive environment. When left untreated, substance abuse can cause lasting effects that are felt by the addict, their co-workers and bosses.

By promoting recovery through enhanced mental health care, employee assistance programs (EAPs) and substance abuse prevention and treatment, companies can reduce the costs associated with addiction in the workplace and help individuals get back on the right track. Without being distracted by drugs or alcohol, workers in recovery are better able to focus on their jobs and reignite their professional passions. Other benefits of helping employees get sober include:

  • Reduced employee absences and turnover
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved job performance
  • Fewer injuries and worker’s comp claims
  • More supportive workplace culture
  • Diminished healthcare costs

There’s also evidence to suggest that those in recovery are more loyal than other employees, with the lowest turnover and absenteeism rates in the workforce. While it can be hard to believe when dealing with a staff member in active addiction, recovered individuals are nearly indistinguishable from their colleagues once sober. By making policies that monitor, reduce and respond to substance abuse in the workplace, employers can invest in their own success by helping employees become healthy, effective and productive again.

Don’t let addiction jeopardize your career. If you’re a professional struggling with substance abuse, reach out to your boss or supervisor to discuss what comes next. Many companies now recognize the importance of helping employees get sober and can inform you how to utilize the available EAP options, mental health resources or rehab solutions. In Boulder, Colorado, this might include Choice House’s intensive outpatient program (IOP) for professionals, which combines high-quality care with a flexible schedule, so you can keep working while in recovery. Our goal is to help individuals gain independence from drug or alcohol addiction, revive their careers and improve their wellness. To learn more about our treatment programs, contact or call us today at 303-578-4975.

Table of Contents

Questions About Treatment?

Choice House is your comprehensive guide to lasting sobriety and wellness. Reach out to us today to see how we can support you on your journey toward sustainable well-being.