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Six Myths About Addiction in the Workplace

Some 70 percent of the 20 million addicts are employed

Jane Ingalls //May 1, 2019//

Six Myths About Addiction in the Workplace

Some 70 percent of the 20 million addicts are employed

Jane Ingalls //May 1, 2019//

Almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. There are many misconceptions about the disease, including its prevalence and impact in workplaces.

The fact is that 20 million Americans have an addiction and 70 percent are employed, which means that employers are facing this issue in greater numbers than most realize.

Here’s a closer look at some of the myths surrounding addiction in the workplace.

Myth: It would be obvious if someone at work was struggling with addiction.

Reality: Actually, many addiction symptoms aren’t very obvious or visible – especially in the earlier stages of the disease. They are costly, however. Research shows that 500 million work days are lost annually due to addiction problems. Other impacts include reduced productivity and higher health care costs.

It can be especially difficult to identify team members who may be dealing with a loved one’s addiction. This often takes a toll on their productivity and health, which directly affects the bottom line of a business. 

Myth: The only way to deal with someone with addiction is to fire them.

Reality: Though it is sometimes be necessary to let someone go, this can be a very costly and shortsighted approach. In many cases, if you provide affected employees with the support they need, they will be able to return to work and stay productive, preventing costly and disruptive turnover. You will also build a great culture and generate greater loyalty among team members.

Myth: We’re a small company and don’t have any issues with addiction here.

Reality: Actually, data shows that addiction impacts nearly 10 percent of the population. That number grows significantly when you include loved ones – it’s estimated that three to four people are directly impacted by one person’s addiction. It’s unlikely that your company isn’t affected in some way by this disease.

Myth: The majority of our employees are highly-educated, so addiction doesn’t impact us.

Reality: Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of education, income or profession – from entry-level workers to successful CEOs.

Myth: We have health insurance that includes treatment, so if someone has addiction issues, they can easily receive help.

Reality:  It can be challenging for people to navigate which treatment providers are in network and going to an out-of-network provider or facility can be very costly. Even securing information about coverage can be difficult. According to Health Affairs, private insurers covered 18 percent of substance use disorder treatment, compared with 35 percent of health expenditures overall.

Additionally, formal clinical treatment isn’t always necessary. It depends on the severity of the person’s symptoms and how far their addiction has progressed. A licensed professional can help people evaluate the best option for their situation.

Myth: Just because an employee has a job and no debt or legal issues, doesn’t mean they can’t be struggling with an addiction problem.

Reality: Not everyone with an addiction issue has such severe symptoms as homelessness or unemployment; there are a range of signs that could indicate that someone needs help. A few other common symptoms include trouble sleeping, conflict with loved ones and giving up activities that used to be fun. Many people are reluctant to admit they need support because they’re successful at work, they don’t drink until after 5 p.m. or other reasons that “prove” they don’t have a problem. Here’s a list of other common “symptoms” that may indicate a problem with addiction.

Addiction is a hidden problem for many employers. Acknowledging that addiction can impact workplaces of all sizes in all industries is the first step in addressing this epidemic.


Jane Ingalls is president of Face It TOGETHER, a nonprofit focused on helping communities transform how they deal with the disease of addiction. Ingalls spearheaded Face It TOGETHER’s launch in Denver and builds with employers and health care organizations.