Underlying Costs of Alcohol in the Workplace

Dec 11, 2020
Medically reviewed by Dr. Maroof Ahmed, MD on 
Nov 1, 2019

Addictions are destructive to people’s lives in a way that other diseases are not. When it comes to alcohol specifically, an estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women)die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. People with alcohol use disorder often suffer from serious psychological distress, depression and anxiety. In addition to wreaking havoc in an individual’s life, alcohol use disorder can cause significant issues in the workplace.

The U.S. Surgeon General reported that collectively, roughly $85 billion is spent to treat injuries, infections and illnesses associated with risky and dependent substance use.Let’s dive deeper into what the underlying costs of alcohol in the workplace looks like.

The per employee cost of alcohol use disorders is $12,301; collectively, alcohol use creates a $249 billion cost burden for employers. This burden comes not only from those with an alcohol use disorder but is largely connected to binge drinking and those who engage in risky drinking behaviors.

Of this total:

·      72 percent of costs are the result of losses in workplace productivity

·      11 percent result from healthcare costs associated with health problems caused by excessive drinking.

 

These health problems create both short-and longer-term health risks

Short-term, excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of a variety of harmful health conditions, including:

·      Injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls and burns

·      Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault and intimate partner violence

·      Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency resulting from high blood alcohol levels

·      Risky sexual behaviors that can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV

·      Miscarriage and still birth among pregnant women

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development and exacerbation of chronic disease and other serious problems that include:

·      High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive disorders

·      Cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon

·      Weakening of the immune system, which increases one’s chances of illness

·      Learning and memory problems, including dementia

·      Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety

·      Social problems

·      Alcohol use disorder

People with alcohol use disorder skip work an average of 15 days per year, almost twice as much as those with no known alcohol use disorder.  It’s important to note that rarely does alcohol use disorder occur in isolation. Rather, it more commonly exists with other mental and physical health disorders.

Without taking purposeful action today, the resultant healthcare costs for addictions, including those exacerbated by the pandemic, will escalate into a tidal wave that will substantially impact organizations and individuals already reeling from the dual effects of SUDs and COVID-19. Without a doubt, as has been the case in prior pandemics, the behaviors of today will become the addictions of tomorrow.

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