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Do Some Businesses “Reward” Drug Abuse?

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Do Some Businesses “Reward” Drug Abuse?

Do Some Businesses “Reward” Drug Abuse?

Current Events: Lee Johnson


An article in the Australian Business Review Weekly tells the story of “Ruth,” a high finance worker in Sydney who left her job because she wanted to stop snorting cocaine. According to her story—which was told to an Australian rehabilitation worker—substance abuse was a 24-hour habit in her business, with executives constantly sneaking off to the bathroom for a pick-me-up.

Substance abuse specialist Josette Freeman argues that it isn’t unusual in that sort of industry, claiming that meetings over wine and dinner with clients often descend into cocaine-taking, and even that the high stress and production-focused businesses essentially reward drug abuse by ignoring the issue if it benefits them. In the United States, it’s estimated that business owners lose $100 billion per year as a result of drug abuse—and the facts about its impacts don’t paint the sort of picture these businesses might imagine.

“Benefits” for Businesses

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2009 77 percent of illegal drug users had either part time or full time jobs. Given the high rates of substance abuse amongst lawyers, it seems reasonable to assume that other high-level professions will also be affected.

Is Stress At Work Leading to Drug Abuse?

If you place yourself into the shoes of a business-owner or other employer (with a limited capacity for foresight), you can see that there are several superficial benefits to a drug-using workforce. Most drugs don’t even have these, but stimulants like cocaine generally increase alertness, help people stay awake, improve mental performance and reduce appetite. If you think coldly and callously, as if you’re only interested in making a profit, these effects are big plus-points for stimulant use in the workplace. You feel like you’ll get an active, focused and dedicated work-force, willing to pull long hours and with an almost constantly positive morale.

According to Josette Freeman—whose work for drug rehabilitation group SMART has put her in contact with many white-collar addicts—“there are a lot of workplaces where they don’t care too much about the workers if they are producing.” This is at least echoed in the legal profession in the US, where the problem is often ignored and allowed to continue.

Risk Factors for Workplace Drug Abuse

There are numerous different elements which can make workplace substance abuse more likely. A particularly important one is stress (which will be addressed in detail later) but many other factors such as long or irregular shifts, tiredness, repetitive duties, isolation, ease of access to substances, lack of supervision and low job satisfaction are also notable risk factors. Some of these (such as stress, tiredness and long hours) would typically be more likely to affect higher-level workers, but others (such as repetitive duties and low job satisfaction) are a particular concern for blue-collar workers. Regardless of the specific risk factors, most jobs evidently carry some inherent risk of substance abuse.

The Importance of Stress

Stress is a key factor when it comes to any type of substance abuse, and this is particularly relevant for high-level professions that carry a lot of responsibility. The mechanism by which stress contributes to addictive behavior has also been studied, but it’s important to understand that stress only creates a susceptibility to addiction. It all depends on how individuals deal with the stresses of the workplace. Healthy coping mechanisms that don’t rely on substances enable most workers to manage stress without relying on substances as a mood-elevator. However, not everybody has these coping mechanisms.

For individuals with less healthy stress management strategies, a high-stress job in the financial or legal industries can easily lead them down the road to substance abuse. As mentioned in the previous section, this is particularly likely if there is easy access to substances in the workplace. This means that if there is a “culture” of drug abuse in the office, anybody exposed to high levels of stress is especially likely to get sucked in. To truly combat the issue of workplace substance abuse, employees have to be taught healthy coping mechanisms and about the long-term effects of drug abuse in the workplace.

The Truth of the Matter

As you may expect, workplace drug abuse—which may have an initial appeal to some employers and employees—ultimately reduces productivity, increases the number of absences, and makes regular changes in employer even more likely. Even stimulants, which initially seem like productivity-drugs, can cause panic, aggression, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations in chronic (long-term) users. On top of this, stimulant users ordinarily binge and then “crash” in a period of little activity characterized by depression, anxiety, and cravings.

Workplaces need to remain vigilant against drug abuse, and it’s advisable to have a policy in place for dealing with workplace substance abuse. In addition to educational programs to increase awareness, it’s important for employers to provide access to treatment and support. Businesses should also be clear about testing protocols and commit to disciplinary action where required. It’s a problem that spans all workplaces, and all businesses must take steps to protect against it.

Read more about The Dangers of Recreational Drug Use Here


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