Drunk man with alcohol addiction, sleeping and holding a bottle of vodka

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study shows a significant increase in alcohol and other substance use affecting 49 percent of American workers. 

The 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update, conducted by Versta Research on behalf of The Standard, measures changes in workplace behavioral health stemming from the pandemic.

Of the 49 percent of workers who reported struggling with some level of addiction, the number of workers reporting lower productivity or missed work because of substance abuse or addiction has nearly doubled since 2019, with about one-third (36 percent) further reporting that it has affected their work more since the pandemic began. Nearly half of full-time workers now report problem use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, and nearly one in five (19 percent) report at least weekly usage. Alcohol remains the most common substance abused by workers, while one in 10 report struggling with prescription medication during the past year.

“The research not only reveals an alarming rate of alcohol and other substance abuse among workers across a variety of industries and generations, but also paves the way for employers to open the conversation with employees about these issues. In this way, companies can empower workers to seek the help and support they need,” said Dr. Dan Jolivet, Workplace Possibilities practice consultant at The Standard, in a press release. “When an employee is living with a substance-use issue, oftentimes a job is something positive to hold onto, and one of the strongest sources of support and encouragement can come from an employer.”

The Standard said it is important for organizations to destigmatize behavioral health issues in the workplace and provide reassurance, encouragement and support to find appropriate solutions. For example, offering access to early intervention and treatment programs or making reasonable accommodations for employees, including stay-at-work and return-to-work services, are valuable steps employers can take to support their employees through this disruptive time. Employers may also partner with disability carriers (The Standard is one of them) who understand effective behavioral health solutions and can support struggling employees reach positive outcomes.