Despite what many may believe, most folks who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are not mindless zombies that wander the streets of Vancouver’s east side accosting tourists and frightening people. While it is tragic that in a country like Canada that we offer so little to those people, it’s also quite demoralizing that we ignore the fact that most addicts are in the workforce and are contributing to society while we hold our beliefs that addicts are “degenerates” or “offer nothing to society”. Such beliefs are part of the stigma that surrounds addiction and has done so for many years. The truth, however, may surprise most people. According to the New York Times, 75% of addicts are in the work force. Yep, that’s right, the vast majority of drug users and alcoholics are paying taxes, raising families and clocking in just like us at some unholy hour of the morning.
Why is this important? I mean, so what if they have jobs, so do I? Truth is, it should worry us all that in our office or worksite, there are probably a handful of colleagues who are struggling with addiction. These are productive people, they contribute to the success of our businesses and the economy as a whole. Not to mention they are people in such similar circumstances to our own. They need our support, awareness and kindness or we lose valuable members of our teams and organizations. Not only that, we almost certainly lose friends and the buddy we always have lunch with.
Statistics are showing us that simply terminating employees that are found to be addicted to alcohol or drugs is ineffective and hurts companies. The alternative, which sounds more expensive and time consuming, actually has far greater return on investment. Supporting addicted workers with treatment options and ongoing support once rehab has concluded appears to benefit employers immensely, not only with continued loyalty but with better productivity and a healthier employer to employee relationship.
Knowing is half the battle, and it came as a shock to me when I began to read about how many addicts really were productive members of our communities. It will make me a bit more mindful, I think, of my surroundings as I head into the office this week after Canadian Thanksgiving, a time with family and stress for many addicts. There could be someone sitting right next to me, or you, who is just struggling. I hope that we can make an effort as individuals, bosses and colleagues alike to help out our workmates and influence them in as positive a way as possible.