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Addictive behaviours undermine teams and productivity

As many as one in five working people have difficulty with alcohol or drugs.

They are also at risk of developing a dependency, according to official estimates.1

Undermines productivity

“Apart from the obvious risk around heavy equipment and accidents, substance misuse also undermines productivity through the output of inferior goods and services.”

Occupational hazards

For instance, meta-analysis of 61 studies involving more than 333,000 people found that employees who work more than 55 hours a week are more likely to drink at levels which threaten their health.5

High-risk roles

The BMA report identified shift work, travel away from home, remote working and job stress as factors which increase use of alcohol and illicit drugs.6

UK Biobank data from 100,000 adults aged 40 to 69, employed in over 300 different jobs, found that publicans and managers of licensed premises are the heaviest drinkers in both sexes.7

Hidden problem

“People experiencing addiction can be very adept at masking their behaviour. They can hold down demanding jobs and maintain full social lives. They can even hide their difficulties from their partners and close family.

“These high-functioning individuals are often in denial about the extent of their dependency. They may use their ability to perform as a defence if anyone suggests there is a problem.

“Some experts prefer the term ‘currently functioning addict’. Because sooner or later, there will be a breaking point.

“This could be because the addiction has escalated to the point that it is impacting their performance or health. Sometimes it’s because the family, colleagues and friends they have relied on withdraw their support. Or, because they insist that dependency issues are addressed.”

Avoiding a crisis

Inaction is not an option. Employers have a statutory duty, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.

And the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations require employers to conduct regular risk assessments. These should include checks on the use of alcohol and drugs, if there is any sign of a problem.

Benefits of early intervention

Resources from the Workplace Health and Wellbeing Academy

1 European Monitoring centre for Drugs and Drug Addicition, March 2022.

2 Institute of Alcohol Studies (PDF, 0.6MB), October 2022.

3 Office for National Statistics, Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2023.

4 Gov UK, Drugs penalties.

5 The BMJ, Long working hours and alcohol use: systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data, January 2015, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g7772

6 British Medical Association (PDF, 0.5MB), Alcohol, drugs and the workplace – The role of medical professionals, July 2016.

7 BMC Public Health, Associations between occupation and heavy alcohol consumption in UK adults aged 40–69 years: a cross-sectional study using the UK Biobank, 2021, DOI:0.1186/s12889-021-10208-x

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