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  August 29th, 2022 | Written by

How Common Is Substance Abuse Among Supply Chain Employees?

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Optimizing supply chain operations requires attention to the workforce’s behavioral trends and issues. Organizations must keep their employees safe, healthy and motivated to protect them and help them reach their full potential, which may involve facing some uncomfortable realities. Understanding substance abuse rates in the industry is an important part of that goal.

Substance abuse can endanger employees, hinder productivity and harm workplace relationships. It may also be a more prevalent problem than many organizations realize. Many companies’ measures to control or understand it aren’t sufficient, and it can be easy to gloss over and assume workers are behaving safely.

Addressing this issue is essential, and that begins with understanding the size of the problem at hand. So, how common is substance abuse among supply chain employees, and how can employers reduce it?

Substance Abuse Rates Among Supply Chain Employees

Some of the most oft-cited data on this issue comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to its 2015 report, on average, 9.5% of all workers depended on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs within any given year. While the transportation and warehousing sector fell below that average at 9.1%, that’s still a considerable problem.

It’s also important to consider that data in context. The SAMHSA study came out in 2015, and trends have since shifted. A more recent report found that drug use in transportation and warehousing increased by 21.4% between 2015 and 2017, more than any other industry.

Figures like 9.1% of the workforce may also seem relatively small at first, but consider the size of that workforce. In an industry as large as this one, any percentage of employees represents a considerable number of people.

The U.S. supply chain accounts for 37% of all jobs, employing 44 million people. Consequently, that 9.1% adds up to more than 4 million workers, and given how rates have risen since the SAMHSA report, that figure is likely higher today. All this data points to the same conclusion: substance abuse is a considerable problem among supply chain employees.

The Dangers of Substance Abuse in Supply Chains

Any amount of substance abuse can negatively affect supply chain operations, too. Most importantly, it can endanger the lives of employees and those around them. Alcohol alone plays a role in 40% of motor vehicle crashes, so substance abuse among drivers or forklift operators increases the risks of a potentially fatal collision.

Substance abuse can affect people’s performance in any job, but that performance drop can be hazardous with as much heavy machinery as supply chain operations. Workers still feeling the effects of alcohol or drugs may have shorter attention spans or extreme tiredness. That decline in attention could lead to dangerous mistakes when operating heavy machinery.

Workers’ social interactions may also suffer as a result of substance abuse. While that may not seem directly related to work, it could hinder their engagement and cause rifts between colleagues. These conflicts, in turn, could decrease workplace productivity and morale.

Overall, drug and alcohol abuse costs U.S. employers $100 billion annually. These losses stem from various factors, from lost productivity to damages to preventable medical bills. With costs this high, especially the cost of human lives, any substance abuse rate in the workforce warrants attention.

Where Does This Problem Come From?

If employers want to help fight workplace substance abuse, they must first understand what causes it. While substance use is a complicated subject with many influencing factors, many cases start with other mental health problems. As many as one in five American adults experience a mental health issue every year, which, when left untreated, can drive people toward drugs and alcohol.

Several factors within the workplace can also raise the likelihood of employees turning to substance abuse. Some employees may feel isolated or uncared for at work, driving them toward drugs or alcohol as a form of relief. Similarly, workers experiencing high stress may use these substances to cope with it.

These issues are particularly prevalent within supply chain organizations. The long hours, high workloads and other pressures of working in this industry lead to considerable stress among supply chain workers. Studies show that 40% of long-haul truckers experience moderate stress, and another 22.7% feel high or chronic stress.

As supply chain pressures ramp up, these stressors and feelings of isolation may worsen. Consequently, resulting behavioral issues like substance abuse may rise within the industry as well.

What Can Employers Do to Help?

While substance abuse is a pressing issue within supply chain organizations, it’s not an impossible one. Employers and managers can take several steps to prevent these issues from starting and mitigate their impact when cases do arise.

Addressing workplace stressors that could drive employees to substance abuse is a good first step. The most-cited causes of workplace stress are low salaries, lack of growth opportunities and heavy workloads. Offering better pay and benefits, creating more upward mobility and reskilling programs and using automation to reduce workloads could help lower stress, reducing subsequent substance abuse.

Creating social programs and employee recognition strategies can help fight feelings of alienation that may contribute to substance abuse. Similarly, it’s important to have a reliable, attentive HR program that can help resolve workplace disputes and build a more comfortable, inclusive workplace.

Tighter restrictions around alcohol and other substances in the workplace can help by reducing their availability. Imposing stricter penalties will discourage casual attitudes around them, creating a healthier, anti-substance abuse workplace culture. Controls like ignition locks that stop drivers from operating machinery without passing a breathalyzer test can help, too.

Finally, supply chain organizations should establish comprehensive substance abuse knowledge and prevention programs. That involves providing meetings and literature to inform people of the dangers of these issues and offering access to treatment. Studies show that abuse treatment programs lead to a 91% decrease in absenteeism and a 97% decrease in workplace injuries.

Substance Abuse Is a Serious Issue

Substance abuse in the supply chain is a more prevalent issue than some companies may realize. Considering rising rates and how destructive, both in terms of health and finances, these behaviors can be, businesses must address them. That begins with understanding the issue itself.

While substance abuse trends are concerning, supply chain organizations have many options for mitigating this issue. As more businesses embrace comprehensive prevention and treatment strategies, workplace substance abuse will decline. With enough work, the industry could virtually eliminate it.