Employees with alcohol problems are likely to miss more days of work, have lower productivity and have higher medical costs than employees without alcohol problems. More than 7 percent of full-time workers (between the ages of 18 and 49) have an alcohol problem in a given year. In addition, more than 50 percent of adults have a close family member with an alcohol problem. Most working family members of alcoholics report that their own ability to function at work is diminished by their family member’s drinking.
Alcohol problems are similar to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. There is clear evidence of a significant return on investment for employers who address chronic diseases. With a relatively small investment in effective prevention and treatment for alcohol problems, employers can reduce costs and save a good employee.
Three Steps to Solving Alcohol Problems
1. Provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employee assistance programs help employees with alcohol, drug, family, or emotional problems. Employees helped by an EAP report fewer substance use and mental health problems, fewer health symptoms, better job attendance and greater job satisfaction. An EAP can also help create a health promotion strategy to teach employees about safe alcohol use, prevent problems before they develop and identify problems before they become severe.
2. Make Sure Health Plans Provide Alcohol Treatment Benefits.
Some health plans provide fewer benefits for alcohol treatment than for treatment of other chronic diseases. Higher copayments and deductibles make it harder for employees to get the help they need. Where state laws require alcohol treatment to be covered to the same extent as other illnesses (a practice known as parity), people are much more likely to enter – and complete – treatment programs.
3. Make Policies that Support Treatment and Recovery.
Every employer should have clear policies on alcohol use and alcohol problems. Rules, and consequences for breaking them, are an important part of such policies. But unclear or punitive policies may discourage employees from seeking treatment. The goal is to strike a balance between the safety needs of the employer, and the health and well-being of the employee.