The ROI on Reducing Addictive Behaviors

We know that addictive behaviors are a burden for many among us: coworkers, friends, sisters, brothers.  However, the true impact of addiction is difficult to determine.  For one thing, people are incentivized to hide these behaviors, often even from loved ones.  As the old adage goes: Self destruction is a deed best done in the dark.  This has enabled the problem of addiction to remain an insidious drain on your employees and organization, without effective correction.  

What do we know?

  • Approximately 21.5 million people aged 12 or older in 2014 had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year.1
  • This includes 17 million people with an alcohol-use disorder in this same time period.1
  • 2008 data suggests that 10.2% of full-time employed adults and 11% of part-time working adults are substance-dependent.2
  • 60.9 million people were binge-drinkers.1
  • The illicit drug use in 2014 was higher than in any year since 2001.1
  • The CDC found that excessive alcohol consumption cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006.3
  • They estimate that lost workplace productivity and healthcare costs accounted for 83% of this number, or $185.5 billion.3
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs cost the US $700 billion in terms of lost productivity, healthcare, and crime.4

It’s probably worth taking a minute to understand the magnitude of these numbers.  This is not a small problem.  Furthermore, it’s easy to imagine ways in which these figures underrepresent.

Currently, employees with a problem are encouraged to seek help through the company’s employee assistance programs (EAPs) or to attend 12-step programs.  Unfortunately, these are not addressing the problem at a full capacity.  Too many human beings are falling through the cracks:

  • On average, only 4.5% of employees use EAP services for counseling for any reason.5 If the rate of substance abuse disorder is 8.1%, then this implies that those seeking help from EAP programs for substance abuse represent a very small percentage of those affected.
  • Some researchers estimate that less than 1% of those with substance abuse disorder utilize available resources.6

This is not a knock on EAPs, for they provide important services.  Rather, this highlights the clear call for a step preceding EAPs.  The current system simply does not serve employee needs at an acceptable level.

Moral imperative aside, there is a strong business case for implementing a new strategy.  Addiction correction at the early stages produces massive return on investment: for each dollar spent on treating addiction early, employers can expect a return of $2 - $10.7 This ROI comes in the form of enhanced employee engagement, lowered absenteeism rates, and decreases in healthcare expenses.

Companies that ignore this data are actively passing up on an opportunity to improve the wellness of their employees AND improve employee productivity and engagement.  The figures imply a clear win-win.

Yet, there is even a third win here: Safety.  One study found that those who drank alcohol on average three or more times per week had about 3.2 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days, compared with 1.9 injuries per 10,000 person-work-days for nondrinkers, representing a 70-percent increase in risk.8  Although some studies failed to find the same correlation, it makes intuitive sense that substance abuse that impairs judgment and decision-making would contribute to accidents on the job.  

The most dangerous demons are often the ones we can’t see.  But the research is here; ignorance now requires willfully shut eyes.  It will be those leaders who are brave enough to act today that will carve the way with a healthier, more productive workforce tomorrow.