Companies can tackle alcohol-drug abuse, on two fronts

Alcohol-related absenteeism costs Australian businesses up to $2 billion a year, health authorities are also noticing rises in prescribed opioid addition and methamphetamine use. Photo: iStock

Workplaces have the potential to ‘prevent, ameliorate or exacerbate’ alcohol and other drug (AOD) use – even causing higher rates of stress and substance use.

With use of illicit drugs increasing against a backdrop of a general decline in risky drinking, business can benefit from a series of training workshop to keep abreast of key issues including cannabis and opioid addiction, a new study says.

Companies which invest in training managers and supervisors in alcohol and other drug (AOD) ‘first aid’ courses can enhance the workplace culture, policy and physical environment to make the hours at work a less risky and more healthy.

Workplaces should take a new year’s resolution to take a systemic top-down approach to cut down on alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse – and in turn help to uncover ‘hidden’ problems which could affect employee health, injury rates, productivity and company profitability.

The recommendations by researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University follow a study of the experience of more than 100 managers and supervisors who undertook AOD training sessions in NSW.

Drug and alcohol first-aid programs can improve knowledge, skills and understanding in tackling workplace AOD risk, the associated stigma and also raise levels of individual self-help, says NCETA director Professor Ann Roche..

With alcohol-related absenteeism costing Australian businesses up to $2 billion a year, health authorities also note rises in prescribed opioid addition and crystal methamphetamine use.

To be most effective, this ‘top-down’ management should complement individual worker AOD training and reporting, researchers say.

“This study highlights the potential for tackling alcohol and other drug issues in their early stages, commencing with testing and information sessions for individual workers to help encourage and sustain more healthy behaviours,” says Professor Roche.

“As well as a range of ‘bottom-up’ approaches, the ‘top-down’ approach can have myriad benefits – including an opportunity to identify associated workplace conditions such as potential precursors such as stress or bullying.

The researchers say further research is warranted into the applicability of drug and alcohol first-aid in different workplaces and occupation groups.

“While more than half the participants in workplace AOD workshops say they didn’t have a chance to apply the skills they learnt in the workshop, we recommend more follow-up training and wider implementation of such programs – particularly in industries with high and endemic rates of AOD.”

Professor Roche also says companies should consider using the workshop training to help managers and supervisors to identify potential precursors of AOD use.

“Businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of worker health, safety and well-being for organisational functioning, so an extension of this could encourage the introduction of workplace wellbeing programs such as stress management or perhaps fitness training,” she says.

The workshops, taken by the 109 people surveyed, were developed by Lives Lived Well, a large multi-disciplinary not-for-profit provider of AOD services in NSW, which contributed to the study.

‘Evaluation of a workshop to address drugs and alcohol in the workplace’ by Ann Roche, Victoria Kostadinov, Alice McEntee, Julaine Allan, Nicholas Meumann and Lara McLaughlin, 2018 has been published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

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