Community voices: alcohol's impact on business

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20 April 2012

AROOSTOOK COUNTY- Many businesses struggle to stay afloat in today’s economic climate, yet there are measures that companies can take to safeguard their bottom line. Alcohol is the most abused drug inMaine and can become a wellness and safety issue that decreases profits and affects morale in the workplace.

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Approximately 15 percent of the U.S. workforce uses or is impaired by alcohol on the job, and more than 29 percent of binge drinkers and 8.5 percent of heavy drinkers are employed. Maine is among the states with the highest percentage of adults who binge drink, estimated at 18.7 percent – 25.6 percent.[i] Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism as having five or more drinks per occasion for males and four or more drinks per occasion for females, and heavy drinking is an average of more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men.

Healthcare costs for employees with alcohol problems are about twice as high as the average employee. Employees with alcoholism use twice as much sick leave as other employees, are five times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim, and are more likely to cause injury to themselves or others while on the job.[ii] Family members with alcohol problems also impact an employee’s ability to perform at work. This places employers at a considerable liability and profit risk.

So what can an employer do? Businesses that have become Drug-Free Workplaces have had a return on investment, not only in healthcare costs and worker compensation claims, but also in lower employee turnover, productivity and fewer employee absences.

Creating a Drug-Free Workplace can be as simple as the adoption of a written substance abuse policy, yet the policy can become more effective when substance abuse education for employees and supervisors is added. A comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace program also includes an Employee Assistance Program and a drug-testing program. Both employers and employees benefit from implementing any of these components, and implementing all five is most effective in protecting an employer from the negative consequences of employee alcohol misuse and substance abuse.

At the very least, all employers should institute an alcohol and drug policy and offer awareness and education programs to employees. Resources are available to help employers and business owners address this issue, including how to create a policy for your business. Visit www.maine.gov/workalert for help getting started.


[i] "Vital Signs: Binge Drinking Prevalence, Frequency, and Intensity Among Adults — United States, 2010." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a4.htm?s_cid=mm6101a4_w

[ii] Ensuring Solutions, George Washington University Medical Center