Substance abuse problems have been prominent of late with two examples of public figures whose drug-taking behaviors have played out in new headlines and have served as the punch lines for late night comics: Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford and Miami Congressman Marc Caputo. Of course, these are just a few of the latest and most public examples of a drama that plays out in millions of households every day. The CDC says that 8.9% of people over the age of 12 have abused illicit drugs in the last month, with another 2.7% engaging in non-medical use of a psychotherapeutic drugs. In addition, recent government statistics show a binge drinking rate of about 23%, with binge drinking defined as 5 or more drinks. Heavy drinkers – those who engage in binge drinking 5+ times a month – are estimated at 6.9%.
The conventional wisdom has long held that drug takers are seeking a high, but new research indicates that addicts may be seeking relief from emotional lows more than euphoric highs. Findings of recently published research from Rutgers University show that, “that the initial positive feelings of intoxication are short lived – quickly replaced by negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to fall.” The study shows that drug abuse may be less about seeking euphoric highs as it is avoiding unbearable emotional lows.
As we listen to the late night jokes about Rob Ford, we are reminded of a segment by the comic and late-night talk show host, Craig Ferguson, who revealed his own struggles with alcoholism in a painfully honest and endearing monologue a number of years ago. He was moved to raise the topic some after watching Britney Spears engaging in very public drug-abuse behaviors. Where most comics saw Britney’s behavior as fair game for lampooning, Ferguson saw the raw human pain of a fellow addict. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth the 12.5 minutes.

The sharing of personal testimonials and stories can be a powerful tool in recovery. Here are two other meaningful personal stories of addiction:
Recently deceased beloved film critic Roger Ebert: My Name is Roger, and I’m an alcoholic
A Toronto-based journalist offers an open letter to Rob Ford on the value of admitting to an addiction: From One Boozer To Another
The role of the employer
Substance abuse is an issue with high productivity losses and costs to the workplace. Even legal drugs are causing problems as prescription drugs become the new face of substance abuse and addiction. Because people spend more of their day at the workplace than any other place besides home, the employer can be a powerful ally in recovery. Maintaining gainful employment is often very important to a substance abuser, both for the ongoing income and also as a point of denial: “I go to work every day. I have no problems there.”
Here are some things employers can do:

  • Consider implementing a drug-free workplace program if you don’t already have one.
  • Talk about the prevalence of substance abuse at wellness and safety forums
  • Treat substance abuse issues like other illnesses. Make factual information available to employees, such as warning signs and confidential screening tests.
  • Publicize help, such as your EAP, and encourage and provide a path for self-reporting of problems.
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize potential signs of substance abuse and how to refer potentially troubled employees for help.

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ESI EAP offers 24-7 access to counselors and a wide variety of support resources for employees and family members who are facing difficult issues. ESI EAP also offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

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