Substance Use Disorder in the Workplace: What is Recovery-Friendly?

Substance use disorders (SUDs) may not be a new topic of discussion in the United States; however, the correlation of SUDs in other areas, such as in a professional setting, has garnered headlines. Over the past few years, the discourse on substance use disorder in the workplace has gained attention as an area that needs adjusting. While this topic was highly stigmatized in the past – and is still very much so – efforts for recovery-friendly workplaces have increased tenfold, demanding a shift in how the workforce views addiction and employment. But what exactly is a recovery-friendly workplace?

This discourse specifically centers around recovery from SUDs, which is the focal point of our services at MAT Care Clinics. The consensus? Recovering from an SUD should be seen as a strength rather than a hindrance, especially when those in recovery seek employment. We must shift how we acknowledge SUDs, healing, and the various stigmas inhibiting one’s ability to integrate back into society. This blog will discuss substance use disorder in the workplace and why a recovery-friendly atmosphere can benefit recovering addicts and fellow employees now and in years to come.

SUDs in the Workplace by the Numbers

In 2021, one in six Americans 13 years or older suffered from at least one substance use disorder. Nearly 30 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 24 million had a drug use disorder, and 7.3 million suffered from both. Further statistics indicate that more than 60% of adults with an SUD have a job, while another analysis revealed that in 2012-2018, 1 in 11 American workers had an SUD.

These numbers show that while substance use is widespread in the workplace, those struggling or recovering from their addiction face extensive ridicule and stigmatization among coworkers and peers. Simply put, they’re not viewed in the same light as others and consequently face various challenges in gaining and maintaining employment.

Stigmas Regarding Substance Use Disorder in the Workplace

Stereotypes and stigmas have riddled the workforce landscape for decades, with many claiming “addicts” or “recovering addicts” as nonfunctioning and delinquent. Addiction is a stigmatized issue that often leaves those needing help masking or hiding their situation at all costs. This notion is especially true in a work environment – those with SUDs feel they must handle their position outside of employer-provided health plans for anonymity.

Employees and coworkers often view individuals with SUDs poorly when tasked with the same responsibilities, feeling they can’t perform their duties competently. Yet these stereotypes don’t only affect the individual; businesses and large companies failing to address substance use among employees tend to lose massive sums each year to handle health care costs, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

Shifting the Tone of Addiction in the Workplace

The best way to shift the tone of substance use disorder in the workplace is to understand the true nature of addiction. Previously, much of the general population viewed addiction as a behavioral problem and moral dilemma that people brought upon themselves. However, nearly all medical and scientific communities now view addiction as a brain disease that rewires neurological pathways, making dependence incredibly difficult to overcome.

Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist and director of addiction medicine at Stanford University, contextualizes this idea of stigmatization among those with an SUD. “This is not about destigmatizing people who use drugs… This is about helping people who have a form of psychopathology that we conceptualize as addiction, so that they can be healthier people and, ultimately, potentially more productive workers.”

While shifting our perspective on addiction seems easy on paper, this is no walk in the park for employers. Implementing new strategies will take time, effort, resources, and, most importantly, trust. Employers must learn to trust employees with a history of substance use so long as they aren’t getting “high on the job” or causing significant issues for those around them. Further, employers must learn how to create a recovery-friendly workplace without removing accommodations or perks that many employees enjoy. It’s a delicate balance that ultimately comes down to the business’s nature, size, and the employers’ trust.

What is a Recovery-Friendly Workplace?

As the name suggests, a recovery-friendly workplace is an inclusive environment that prioritizes support for employees in recovery among teammates and the overall work culture. These workplaces recognize recovery from SUDs as a strength and cater to those willing to work intentionally with those in recovery. Recovery-friendly workplaces encourage a healthy environment where employers, employees, and entire communities can create positive change and eliminate potential barriers for those overcoming an SUD.

Recovery-friendly workplaces utilize various policies and practices to accomplish these goals, which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Providing access to services such as treatment, mutual aid, and recovery support
  • Expanding employment opportunities for those in or seeking recovery
  • Reducing the risk of misuse by promoting education and injury prevention in the workplace
  • Ensuring that all employees and coworkers understand the environment and the policies put in place
  • Facilitating help-seeking among those with SUDs
  • Accommodating peer support networks to deploy recovery mentors or specialists
  • Implementing new onboarding approaches for those in recovery, such as supported employment models or second-chance opportunities

Evidence-based safety and health programs can retain more productive, motivated, and healthier workers. These workplaces also work to reduce stigmas, foster open communication, and bolster a more vital and safer collaborative atmosphere where everyone feels at ease and in sync.

What Are Recovery-Friendly Advisors (RFAs)?

Recovery-friendly advisors strengthen workplace culture by supporting the interest of companies and businesses that wish to apply these safety and health programs to their practices. Employers can consider RFAs their workplace partners, providing services at no charge to establish these policies without setbacks. Some specific roles of an RFA in a recovery-friendly workplace include:

  • Providing workplaces with relevant information and resources to promote well-being, health, and recovery for employees
  • Consulting with employers for planned training sessions relating to substance use and behavioral health that tie into the company’s needs
  • Educating employees on general substance use and reviewing the company’s policies regarding alcohol, tobacco, and other substances upon hire and annually after that
  • Assisting businesses in participating in public awareness and educational events in their respective communities to build loyalty and trust among colleagues

Who is Leading the Charge of Recovery-Friendly Workplaces?

Many organizations, such as the Recovery-Friendly Initiative in New Hampshire, have kickstarted these efforts. This initiative, led by the state Governor, Chris Sununu, promotes individual wellness for workers in New Hampshire by empowering workplaces to support those with SUDs.

Colorado is another state who have hopped in on the initiative. They aim to educate, train, and provide resources to help managers and individuals employ and support these practices. The state has created a pledge where C-suite executives and business leaders can acknowledge that their organization prioritizes mental health, treatment, and addiction prevention for all employees.

As more states get on board with these initiatives, we will see a shift in how all workplaces address substance use among coworkers, providing equal opportunities and shattering stigmas in the future.

Recovery from Substance Use at MAT Care Clinics

At MAT Care Clinics, we understand the nature of substance use disorder in the workplace and how important these programs are to better our nation’s workforce. Aside from our comprehensive substance use recovery services, we strive to provide relevant addiction, prevention, and acceptance resources.

Call us at (833) 622-0628 or visit our website for more information regarding medication-assisted treatment or a free consultation.