Mental health disorders and substance abuse problems are closely linked illnesses, so intertwined in fact, it can be difficult to separate the two issues. It’s a problem akin to the classic chicken-and-egg quandary. Which came first – the drug abuse or the poor mental health?
Some people present a clear progression of problems, but more frequently, these co-occurring conditions developed alongside one another. If a person who has shown signs of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, or some combination of disorders from an early age, then turns to drugs/alcohol, they have a greater propensity to abuse drugs and alcohol, and their condition worsens over time.
Employers have a major stake in understanding the ways that mental health disorders affect substance abuse issues. If companies invest in helping employees recover from addiction and improve their mental health, they can provide a vast array of resources and a strong motive to stay clean.
The issue of co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse is one closely followed by the therapeutic medical community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that about 8.9 million Americans have both mental health and substance abuse issues.
People with mental health disorders are twice as likely to suffer from a substance abuse
disorder, compared with the general public, according to SAMHSA.
Those dealing with mental health issues sometimes self medicate with drug and alcohol to suppress their feelings of depression, anxiety or even auditory or visual hallucinations. Increased substance use further exacerbates the person’s mental health, inciting more substance use, and the cycle continues.
Needless to say, it’s a complicated issue. According to SAMHSA, “Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose due to the complexity of symptoms, as the signs often mimic one another. In many cases, people receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains unrecognized.
This may occur because of the crossover of signs and behaviors exhibited. The complex nature of these co-occurring issues may be one of the reasons people fail to receive proper treatment. Experts believe effective recovery requires concurrent work on the mental health and the addictive behaviors a person is experiencing. The SAMHSA survey indicates that less than 8% of people receive treatment for both issues, and approximately 55% of those who live with both issues, opt out of treatment.
An employee experiencing co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues may have additional problems. They are more likely to lose their homes, get arrested and suffer a decline in health. SAMHSA stated these individuals are also at greater risk of suicide and early death.
According to the Veterans Affairs Department, approximately one-third of veterans
seeking treatment for substance use disorders also met the criteria for PTSD.
It can be easy to dismiss a worker you find is abusing drugs or alcohol, yet there could be mental health issues being masked by the drug/alcohol use. As the employer, you may have the ability to help.
According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, about one in ten American workers annually struggles with drug use and alcohol misuse. The financial ramifications to the U.S. economy is an estimated annual $276 million in health care costs, absenteeism, accidents, theft and lost productivity.
Find out how much substance abuse could be costing your company with the Substance Abuse Calculator
offered by the Center for Workplace Mental Health.
Costs to American employers are staggering and may include absenteeism, increased risk of injury, reduced productivity and an incline in direct health care costs and worker’s compensation claims. Often people who have legitimate prescriptions will use illicit drugs in place of the prescriptions or to combat adverse side effects of the prescription.
Combined with poor mental health, prescribed medications and illicit drugs rob a person of their ability to focus and be productive. Despite the employee wanting to do a good job, they may simply be incapable of performing certain job functions.
We spend a large part of our lives at work. Employers and employees live through good and bad times together. Many people access health care through their employment benefit package. Employers may be in a unique position to assist workers in addressing issues with substance abuse.
If the person also suffers from mental illness, an employer’s intervention could have a lifetime impact. If your worker knows they have a supportive environment, they may feel an increased incentive to improve their condition. An added bonus could be the resulting loyalty of the employee.
According to the National Business Group on Health, employers can assist workers suffering from addiction in many ways.
Workers who need to leave work for substance abuse treatment may be protected by law. The Family and Medical Leave Act should be reviewed by employers and employees alike. There is also legal precedence indicating that certain employees suffering from addiction may have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Don’t underestimate the impact you have as an employer to help a person turn his or her life around, particularly if they suffer from co-occurring mental health problems and addiction. Your intervention could be a critical, life-saving action. Take time to see they whole person. Give them time to regain their health. They could return to work better than ever!