How Employers Can Prevent Addiction Relapses

Few workplace topics, outside of, perhaps, politics, will excite as much heated debate as the topic of workplace addiction.  Between the judgers, the deniers and stigma, it can be easy to lose track of what is important (human beings) and pragmatic (sensible solutions which boost the bottom line).  

Fortunately, relapse rates for addiction are readily available and employers can be part of the solution in ways which benefit all involved.  You can turn a difficult condition into a win-win situation.  Here’s how.

Addiction Relapse Rates

So what percent of addicts relapse?  The numbers are comparable to treatment relapse rates for other conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension: about half.  Forty to sixty percent of addicts will relapse at some point, some more than once.  

Looking at it in terms of other chronic conditions can be helpful in many ways, in terms of understanding how recovery and maintenance might go. Just as a newly diagnosed Type II diabetic might have an adjustment period (getting accustomed to checking blood sugar, taking insulin and eating certain foods), an addict in recovery will need to re-learn many old habits and change routines.  Just as you might expect an asthmatic to have to limit certain activities to better control the condition, an addict in recovery will likely have to make lifestyle changes to avoid addiction triggers.

Making changes to prevent relapse isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a demonstration of strength of character.  As an employer, supporting those changes, as determined by the addict, exhibits loyalty.

Employee Value

What value do employees really have?  On the one hand, allowing the required 12-week (unpaid) medical leave for treatment can be frustrating.  A natural response may be to want to look for reasons to dismiss an employee, or to at least wonder how you would cover an absence.

But there’s another angle to consider: the real value of an employee.

  • Cost of replacement – Finding employees costs thousands of dollars. Advertising, reviewing resumes, screening interviews, follow-up, and then hoping the person actually stays…it all adds up.
  • Value of loyalty – Loyal employees are worth their weight in gold. On average, employees stay only a little over four years before making a job jump.  Someone who will face personal challenge with grace and dignity, and continue to contribute to the success of your business, is invaluable.
  • Demonstrated care – When you show your employees that you care, word spreads.  You can quickly become the kind of employer top talent loves working for.  

Considering these factors, you can see what a difference you can make in someone’s recovery–making the workplace their second home, a place they look forward to returning to, and growing your team along with everyone’s success.

Resources for Employers

If you have concerns over the impact of addiction on the workplace, or drug relapse rates, the US Department of Health and Human Resources has many references and resources available to employers through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Resources on the page are tailored to different audiences and different conditions, but there are guides specific to employers and dealing with substance abuse.  For example, the guide “Partners for Recovery” covers many relevant topics, from signs of misuse, to addressing and implementing a “drug-free workplace” policy.

If you have an employee who has dealt with substance abuse or addiction, you can provide a stabilizing force and make a lasting difference in the prevention of relapse.  After all, real changes in civilizations happen on a case-by-case, individual-by-individual basis.  So make a difference in the life of an addict, assist with the prevention of a relapse, and “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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