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Should Start-Ups Have a Drug or Substance Abuse Policy in Place: 7 Things to Know

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Startups are high-stress and are known to take part in late hours, regular socializing, and excessive caffeine consumption.

While drugs, alcohol, and tobacco consumption can be found anywhere in the industry, problems arise in startups when employees start abusing drugs instead of just indulging socially.

Startups that engage in a substance abuse policy, including a rehab contact, can prevent their workers from abusing substances while they’re working and at social events.

Addiction is more common than you think

In 2017, 19.7 million American adults suffered from an addiction disorder and 74% of them struggled with substance abuse alongside alcoholism. That’s a staggering almost 10% of the population of the United States over the age of 12.

1. What is Addiction?

Addiction is a recognized mental disorder where drugs and/or alcohol are consumed compulsively despite the known negative consequences. This usage creates a tolerance that then requires the consumption of higher and higher doses to gain any effect.

  • Approximately 570,000 deaths are attributed to drug use
  • 440,000 deaths are connected to tobacco-related ailments
  • 85,000 deaths are connected to alcohol use
  • Illegal drugs relate to 20,000 deaths per year
  • Prescription drugs are the cause of more than 20,000 deaths per year

2. Problems with addiction can cost your company

Most people view addiction as a personal problem or one that only has effects on the individual and their families but that couldn’t be more wrong.

Between workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related expenses, addiction costs more than $740 billion annually!

Employers shoulder most of the expense of addiction disorders through low productivity, absenteeism, high employee turnover rates, and healthcare premiums. This equals about $120 billion.

Around 20% of that cost is from lower productivity. A 33% drop in productivity can cost a start-up dearly!

3. Staying silent doesn’t help

Helping your employees get sober is in everyone’s best interest. The benefits for your employee are obvious but for the business, they can include:

  • Reduced absences and lower staff turnover
  • Increased productivity
  • Better job performance
  • A decrease in work-related injuries and therefore worker’s comp claims
  • A happier and more supportive workplace culture
  • Decrease in overall healthcare costs

4. Startups are at risk

Startups live in a fast-paced world full of pressures and stress that push many to rely on substances to help them succeed.

A reliance on drugs to meet the intense performance standards and cope with the environments created by startups and the drive to succeed lends itself to addiction disorders.

The most common reasons addiction disorders are prevalent in startups are:

  • Stress: the responsibilities and deadlines that coincide with starting and succeeding in a new business push some to self-medicate. In extreme cases, combine the added stress with unsupportive management and added responsibilities and drugs and/or alcohol become the coping mechanism for negative emotions.
  • Long work hours: whether it’s coping with negative emotions or staying awake and focused, the long work hours typically associated with startup businesses can lead to dangerous self-medication.
  • Alienation: the daily environment of a workplace can lead to feelings of loneliness and overall well-being. Combine that with other workplace stress and/or negative emotions and you have a growing possibility for addiction.
  • Social culture: if your policies aren’t clear, employees may find it easy to bring alcohol or drugs to the workplace. Their usage on lunch may become commonplace. If other employees are partaking, social pressures commonly spread this type of self-medication both in the office and during off-hours social events.

5. Substance abuse policies should be in place

Believe it or not, employees in active recovery from addiction disorders are more loyal and have the lowest turnover and absentee rates.

A successful workplace environment should have a policy in place that reflects local laws but also the characteristics of the workplace and the values and priorities of your organization.

Businesses with policies that monitor, reduce, and respond to addiction disorders in the office allow employers to invest in their own success while helping their employees find their success and health.

6. Ensure employees understand the policy

A written drug-free workplace policy should be shared with all your employees and training for management to learn the signs and symptoms of addiction to best help any struggling employees.

Be free and open when discussing the policy with your employees and expound on the benefits of having and working in a drug-free workplace.

Be open about supporting the policy and the strategies and support programs that you have made available to them. A positive work environment leads to less of those negative emotions that can lead to substance abuse.

7. Add a rehab contact to your employee handbook

Providing a supportive work environment for those struggling with addiction is the best way to combat workplace addiction.

Gallus Detox noted that the main reasons for not seeking out treatment were fear of withdrawal, denial, shame/stigma, lack of health insurance coverage, and not having access to a treatment provider.

Adding a rehab contact directly in your employee handbook is the first step to overcoming the stigma of asking for help. Combine that with a supportive work environment and you can help them overcome almost all the reasons listed above.

Takeaway: A policy and rehab contact can benefit your whole team

Let’s face it, start-ups are risky. They require you to accept a lot of uncertainty and are often very volatile. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or lucky.

The start-up environment is going to put pressures on its employees that they don’t encounter in other industries, and given the competitive nature of the sector, it can push people over the edge – which means addictions are bound to develop.

Therefore, startup employers need to be ready for this eventuality, which means having some sort of policy in place just in case something happens (and having rehab contact information readily available).

It is always vital, particularly in the high-risk environment of a start-up, to provide employees with a means to reach out to a trusted source if they feel the need to do so and can recognize the warning signs before drug abuse takes place.

The benefits of having such a policy in place are clear, not only for the start-up but also for the employee who will learn and grow from their difficult experience.


Kossi Adzo is the editor and author of He is software engineer. Innovation, Businesses and companies are his passion. He filled several patents in IT & Communication technologies. He manages the technical operations at

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