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How To Help Employees Who Have a Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorders (SUDs) do not discriminate. Addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of race, gender, age, economic status, job title, intelligence, or ZIP code. It often starts in a very innocent way, such as with the use of legally-prescribed prescriptions after an illness or injury, or with casual use when people are trying to alleviate depression or anxiety. Sometimes drug and alcohol use escalates and a person can quickly lose control.

Substance abuse infographic

Source: National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics

A report from the CDC indicates that COVID-19 may have exacerbated the problem, with 13% of respondents reporting that they used drugs and alcohol to deal with emotions and stress caused by the pandemic.

How is substance abuse impacting their lives?

Nobody chooses to suffer from an addiction. Substance use can negatively affect just about every aspect of a person's life. When a SUD takes over, drinking, misusing medications, or using drugs becomes an obsession that can lead to problems with:

  • Physical health, including brain and organ damage and poor nutrition. People who are drunk or under the influence of drugs may also have a heightened risk of injury or death due to car accidents, falls, exposure to weather, or violent crime.
  • Psychological health, including depression, anxiety, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts
  • Relationships with family and friends. People with addiction can have trouble maintaining healthy relationships. They may become socially isolated and victimize those closest to them through lying, stealing, or physical abuse.
  • Financial instability, including job loss, not paying bills on time, and homelessness
  • Legal trouble, including arrests, jail or prison time, fines and lawyer's fees, and loss of a driver's license

How does substance use impact the workplace?

A recent U.S. survey on drug use found that 8.8% of full-time employees and 9.4% of part-time workers use illicit drugs.

SUDs not only cause trouble in your employees' personal lives, they also can drive up costs for employers by increasing health care costs and absenteeism and reducing workplace productivity, performance, morale, and safety.

Substance use can increase the need for emergency medical care, which can drive up costs for employer-sponsored health plans. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 out of 8 adult emergency room visits (about 12 million visits) are linked to mental illness and substance use disorders.

Two people hugging in a recovery group

How can business owners help?

The Society for Human Resources Management

Here are some tips to help employees who are struggling with a substance use disorder:

  • Help reduce the stigma around addiction. Treat it as a disease instead of a character flaw.
  • Offer treatment as part of your employee benefits program.
  • Educate managers and human resources staff about the nature and signs of addiction and benefits of treatment. Managers should know how to recognize the warning signs. Warning signs may include:
    • Frequent absenteeism
    • Declining work performance or quality
    • Financial struggles
    • Physical signs such as changes in weight, dental issues, flu-like symptoms, and frequent pain
    • Erratic or unpredictable behavior
    • Decline in hygiene or appearance
    Staff should understand how to have a supportive conversation with the employee once a substance use issue is suspected.

    Educate managers and human resources about the stigma of addiction.

When taking action to help an employee with a suspected SUD, employers may be required to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act and other laws. Refer to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website for more information.

Allstate Benefits has resources

As an employer, you want your employees to be happy and healthy. Allstate Benefits provides resources to help employers support employees struggling with substance abuse disorders.

Allstate Benefits offers plan designs that include coverage for inpatient and outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Employers can also add the Walmart Health Virtual Care telehealth service to their self-funded plan for a more robust benefits package. Walmart Health Virtual Care (formerly known as MeMD®) offers your members access to virtual Urgent Care for minor illness and injuries and to virtual Talk Therapy (Ages 18+) for mental health counseling services.


The Allstate Benefits Self-Funded Program provides tools for employers owning small to mid-sized businesses to establish a self-funded health benefit plan for their employees. The benefit plan is established by the employer and is not an insurance product. Allstate Benefits is a marketing name for: Integon National Insurance Company in CT, NY and VT; Integon Indemnity Corporation in FL; and National Health Insurance Company in CO, WA and all other states where offered. For employers in the Allstate Benefits Self-Funded Program, stop loss insurance is underwritten by these insurance companies in the noted states.

Walmart Health Virtual Care (WHVC) offers medical consultations and talk therapy services via telehealth to patients nationwide. Telehealth services may vary by state. Services are provided in accordance with state law by licensed health care professionals, subject to the licensed professionals' judgment. When medically necessary, WHVC providers may prescribe medication that can be picked up at a local pharmacy of the patient's choice; WHVC does not guarantee that a prescription will be written. WHVC is not a pharmacy or prescription fulfillment warehouse. WHVC is not an insurance product. Virtual Urgent Care visits are not a replacement for a primary care physician.

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