Reduce Substance Abuse Recovery Stigma in the Workplace

In the workplace, Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can lead to absenteeism, tardiness, low productivity, conflict with co-workers and managers, burnout, and other undesirable outcomes. COVID-19 has only increased these problems through mass unemployment and financial insecurity. 

In 2020 we developed a series of mental health awareness workshops aimed at employers to create mental health-friendly workplaces. We have expanded that work to include resources and community partners to help Central Ohio employers become recovery inclusive workplaces. 

We are providing these resources to reach our goal to destigmatize the negative stereotypes associated with those in recovery. Harmful effects of stigma can include reluctance to seek help or treatment, few opportunities for work, harassment, feelings of hopelessness. *** 

OUD/SUD can impact employees of all genders, races, socioeconomic status, and age. Nearly 75% of American adults with an opioid use disorder are in the workforce.^ This means your employees or coworkers could need help. 

Ask yourself if any of these symptoms are happening at your workplace from your coworkers or employees. 

  • Increased tardiness 
  • Increased disciplinary actions 
  • Increased employee turn-over 
  • Increased healthcare costs 
  • High safety concerns and accidents 
  • Decreased morale and productivity
  • Frustrated managers and co-workers 

These resources are meant to provide meaningful and practical guidelines to support executives, managers, supervisors and human resource staff in creating a recovery inclusive workplace to help end stigma. 

The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. It has been estimated that $1.5 Billion of this cost is incurred by businesses in the form of impaired productivity and absenteeism.** 

According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), employers are responsible for understanding the nature of their workforce, the major problems and stressors that are affecting their employees, and the possible ways in which alcohol, prescription drugs, and other drug misuse may be causing or contributing to some of those problems. 

Armed with this understanding, employers are far more equipped to develop effective recovery responsive policies and programs that can meet the needs of their unique workplace while positively impacting their bottom line. 

In addition to creating a culture of understanding, there are many benefits in having a recovery friendly workplace for employers and employees. 

  • Lower absenteeism 
  • Lower turnover 
  • Decreased healthcare costs 
  • Positive company culture 

There are many ways to create a recovery inclusive workplace, some small and simple and some that are bigger initiatives. Here are a few examples to help aid in reducing stigma today. 

  • Analyze your culture. Eliminate imprecise and pejorative terms from workplace language and instead adopt language that reflects a health perspective and is consistent with terms used to describe other health conditions (e.g., “person with substance use disorder”). 
  • Look at your policies. Adopt health-promoting policies in the workplace to raise awareness and support workers and their family members struggling with a substance use disorder. 
  • Consider your leadership. Ask your leadership within the company to adopt policies, training, and more that help to end stigma. 
  • Provide training and education. Work with trusted partners and experts to give training to managers and workers to overcome misunderstanding and bias against individuals with substance use disorder. Ensure that all substance use policies are informed by science and supported by data. 
  • Commit to support. Foster a culture a trust and kindness from the top of the company to the bottom.  

The goal of Goodwill Columbus is to serve populations that have significant barriers to employment including substance recovery issues, among others but we are not experts in substance recovery. We have collaborated with experts in this space to acquire helpful information on how to become a recovery inclusive workplace but there are many additional resources available to continue this work. 

Here are some of our trusted partners who can continue helping you support your employees in recovery. 

* Funding for this training was made possible (in part) by the Ohio State Opiate Response (SOR) - 1H79TI083294-01 grant from SAMHSA. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. 

**According to statistics shared from Recovery Business Association. 

*** This outline was created from Goodwill Columbus in partnership with Syntero, Inc. to ensure subject matter experts could review language, resources, and overall impact. 

^According to a study from the National Safety Council.