How Workplaces are Encouraging Addicts to Stay Sober

sober workplace

Millions of Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and many of them are gainfully employed.  Overall, that’s a good thing.  Employment means connection to other people, to a purpose, and the ability to sustain oneself, instead of relying on welfare or others for support.  But given the stigma surrounding addiction, it can be difficult for someone to come forward, get support for recovery, and continue employment.

Here’s how some workplaces are encouraging recovery and continued sobriety.

A Widespread Problem

When something is illegal and stigmatized, it doesn’t necessarily get openly talked about.  But when it comes to addiction, it should.  Knowing drug addiction facts and statistics can help you understand the extent of the situation, and what can be done about it.

According to national surveys, an estimated 22.7 million Americans have a problem related to drugs or alcohol and need treatment, or 8.6% of the population.  Certain industries have higher rates of addiction than the national average. For example, the accommodations and food services industry has an abuse rate of 11.8%, with 19% have admitted to trying an illicit drug within the past month.

Unfortunately, some of the fields in which addiction rates are the highest, also offer the least amount of support for treatment, allowing problems to persist.

Making a Difference

While the statistics on addiction can be concerning, recovery rates may be reassuring.  Addiction relapse statistics closely resemble long-term recovery rates from other chronic conditions, such as asthma or type II diabetes. 

In that light, some workplaces are making a difference, backing treatment and encouraging addicts to stay sober.

Studies on a therapeutic workplace environment have found that with reward and penalty systems in place, recovery rates improve.  The workplace management consisted of:

  • Daily or near-daily drug tests done by urine sample.
  • Provide a clean sample, you get to work until the next sample day.
  • Provide a sample testing positive for drugs or alcohol, no work until the next clean sample provided.

In the highest performing studies, participants were paid in cash at the end of each day–an immediate reward.  Concerns arose about paying in cash, and that it would perhaps be spent on drugs or alcohol.  Instead, they found that the opposite was true–those paid in cash daily were less likely to spend that money on drugs or alcohol, and more likely to use it for food, family support, or other necessities.

For some of the fields with the highest addiction rates, such as mining, construction and food services, the work itself is skill-based.  Implementing a system following the therapeutic workplace model would be simple to do, and less costly than many other forms of treatment (and less costly to society than unemployment).

Sober living houses have also made a difference for addicts in recovery. Whether sponsored by a group or set-up themselves through a roommate situation, having a built-in group purpose for sobriety can help keep everyone on track. 

Workplaces or industries could help sponsor worker sober living houses.

Removing the Stigma

These sorts of creative solutions to sobriety make a difference, but also have the potential to inspire other creative solutions.  As programs succeed in one workplace, they can share their success and inspire other workplaces.

The important thing is to allow and encourage the dialog.  Industries share best practices on all manner of topics–hiring, financial management, even scheduling–it’s time to remove the stigma and share best practices about helping what amounts to nearly 10% of the working population, struggling with addiction.  Together, we can make recovery possible and encourage addicts to stay sober, essentially saving their lives, while contributing their talents and energies to the workplace.

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