Drug addiction is a very complex disease and drugs even change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.


Drug addiction also affects employers and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 70 percent of people with a substance use disorder maintain employment in some form, which means that employers are being impacted by this disease and its consequences.

Depending on the state law and company policy, employers may do drug testing either prior to making a job offer or as a contingency for an offer. Employees may be tested for drugs or alcohol in the workplace, where permitted by state law.

In this post, we will discuss all the impacts of substance abuse and addiction which happens in any workplace, costs of drug testing and what to do after an employee tests positive for a drug test.


The Impact of Substance Abuse and Addiction in the Workplace



People often think that people with substance abuse or addiction issues are outliers, people who live in squalor and who cannot keep a steady job. But the reality is that the majority of people struggling with addictions hold down full time jobs, just like you and me.

We tend to think that identifying people with drug or alcohol problems is easy, but many successfully hide their afflictions from family members and employers. However, if you suspect that one of your employees may have an issue, there are some things you can look for.

How to Identify an at Risk Employee

Keep in mind that addiction is a condition that requires treatment, and we should be mindful of how we approach an employee we think is dealing with a substance abuse problem. You want to do all you can to confirm your suspicions and be aware of the following warning signs.

  • Has the quality of the employees work diminished, are they late in completing assignments, or do they appear distant or withdrawn
  • Do they seem anxious, and do they struggle with concentrating on their work
  • Are they gone for long periods of time, or do they take long lunches or break
  • Does the employee react harshly or with aggression when given feedback
  • Is there a noticeable change in their appearance or hygiene


Potential Impact of an Impaired Employee

An employee that is dealing with a substance abuse issue can have an impact on the quality of work, and even on other employees. This can present both a financial and human resources situation that may have a significant impact on your employees.

Impaired employees are at a higher risk for both workplace accidents and violence. Employees that come into workplace high, or drunk, can make your other employees uncomfortable or even fearful of the person depending on the level of inebriation.

Left unmanaged these employees can damage your reputation and even result in unwanted legal consequences.



Overall Cost of Addiction or Substance Abuse in the Workplace

According to the NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) 70% percent of the estimate 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed, additionally the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates that $120 billion dollars is lost to productivity, and an addition $11 billion is spent on healthcare costs.

Dealing with employees who are dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction present risk in a variety of areas, but the financial impact of lost productivity and higher absenteeism can have place a significant burden on your company and cause stress for not only you, but also for your employees.

What can you do?

If you do not have a current substance abuse management or prevention policy in place, that would be the first place that you should start. It is important that you have a clear policy that outlines the consequences for substance abuse in the workplace.

You will also want to incorporate a drug testing option in your policy. Whether you want to take the employee to a lab, or collect a sample in house, you want to make clear that you do not, and will not tolerate substance abuse.

A strong policy will make it clear to your employees that you take their safety and security seriously, it will also ensure that should you encounter an employee under the influence you have a rock solid plan for how to deal with. Regardless of the size of your organization, a comprehensive policy will save you money and time.


One other thing that you can do to support your employees is to add an addiction treatment option to your benefits package. Many people dealing with an addiction are great people who have just found themselves in a bad place due events in their lives that they aren’t able to handle.

It is important to show people who are struggling a path to recovery. Many people who go through a recovery program can return to their workplaces as hard working dedicated employees who are grateful for the help they were given. By adding a recovery option you may not only save a valuable employee, you may also save a life.

Okay, so your business has assessed the pros and cons of drug testing for employees, and it has been given the green light by your executive team. Now what? Let’s see what will be the costs of drug testing.


Have You Weighed the Costs of Drug Testing Lately?


Your accounting gurus have determined that paying for a drug-testing service can save money in the long run by minimizing accidents, injuries, and product loss or damage, not to mention customer-relations foibles.

By implementing drug testing, your business can also qualify for incentives, if not reductions in rates, when it comes to Workers’ Compensation and insurance premiums.

It all sounds too good to be true. But, wait!

  • What type of drug testing is best?
  • What kind of drug testing do you actually need?
  • And, how much do the various methods cost?


These are all great questions. It would be easy to say that the cost of one method of drug testing compared to another is a lot like buying anything else — you get what you pay for. However, this is only slightly the case because each business’s needs differ.

What a business will pay for a drug-testing service depends on the type of test conducted (e.g., blood, urine, saliva, hair).  There are basically two ways to administer a test and receive results: off-site and on-site.


The type of test most suitable for your business depends on a host of conditions:

  • How much do you have budgeted for drug testing?
  • How fast do your results need to be ascertained?
  • Does your business intend to conduct random drug testing?
  • Do you prefer an on-site or off-site process?


Saliva tests. Businesses that experience a high employee turnover, such as grocery stores or restaurants, probably want a drug testing method with a short turnaround, such as the saliva or swab method of testing.

Because saliva samples can be collected in less than 10 minutes and the results are returned within the same day, it is quite appealing to a grocer or other business that hires a lot of young, seasonal employees or people who will be working with or around mechanical devices and vehicles.

After training and equipment facilitation, provided by the employer’s chosen testing provider, the mouth swab or saliva method usually runs from $1 to $10 per employee. It is completely administered and processed on-site, which is an attractive feature of this test.


Urine tests. These are most suitable for determining drug use as opposed to alcohol use, but they are very reliable if the person tested does not find a way to fake or falsify their sample. Because the person tested must urinate in private, he or she can use a substitute sample from someone who doesn’t use drugs or can dilute their own urine to circumvent detection.

Urine testing, which can be administered on-site, is one of the least costly of all methods, coming in at anywhere from $3 to $50 per test.

Blood tests. This method reveals the amount of alcohol or drugs in the blood at the time of the test. The window is a short one, since drugs are quickly cleared from the blood and deposited into the urinary tract.

Because blood tests are considered the most reliable in court cases, it is the method used when an incident results in serious injury or death. It is otherwise unpopular among employers because of its instantaneous window and expense.

Blood tests are the most expensive to administer, usually around $120-$150 per test, and must be processed off-site.

Hair tests. These are the most accurate and dependable tests because they cover the widest window of usage, but only in the case of drugs. They cannot be used to detect alcohol use. It is the least invasive form of drug testing regarding privacy concerns, but its results take longer to arrive than other testing methods; indeed, sometimes over a month. Hair test costs are comparable to blood tests—ranging up to about $105-$125 per test.

According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), employers on average pay anywhere from $30 to $50 per drug test, including the acquisition of the needed equipment. Given this general rate, drug tests prove extremely cost-efficient for most businesses when considering the potential costs of product damage or an accidental injury on the workplace floor, especially regarding litigation and insurance premiums.

Weighing the cost of drug testing in your specific field is a must, and in most cases, many companies cannot afford not to test.

But now the question is, what to do if your employee gets a positive result after a drug test. Let’s see the procedures for helping your employees through addiction.

What To Do After An Employee Tests Positive for a Drug Test


Drug testing days are an exciting time as potential hires and returning employees anxiously await their turns to test, and anticipate the results. Even if someone is not on drugs, drug testing still causes an air of nervousness, since some common cold and sinus medicines, vitamin supplements, and foods can cause a false positive result on an instant drug test.

How do you know if the drug test is a false positive? Sometimes a second test provides the added assurance, but sometimes there is no easy answer, and further investigation is required. It is necessary to notify the employee of the results of their drug test, regardless of the result.

Notifying an employee of a positive drug test result is something that must be done in a uniform manner according to your company’s written policies and procedures.

The Importance of Policies and Procedures

Having these policies and procedures in place for handling both positive and negative results are an important part of having a successful drug-free workplace.

In the event that you are faced with a positive result in a drug test, helping your employees navigate through the company’s procedures to treat illicit drug use or addiction, and getting them help they need it (if they accept the help) must take place in a way that is legal, humane, respectful, and in many cases allowing for the employee to return to the workplace once rehabilitation is complete.

Here are some guidelines for handling positive results for a drug test. Your state may have certain laws and guidelines concerning drug testing in the workplace.

For instance, it is illegal in some states to discharge an employee for their first offense by failing a drug test. Implementing statewide policies along with what your company values will help these procedures run smoothly for both testing administrators and those being tested.


The Likelihood of False Positives

No one looks forward to delivering or receiving the news of a positive drug test. The good news is YES – sometimes these results are explainable for those who are not on drugs. Some cold medications, foods, and even vitamin supplements contain traces of the very same substances found in illegal drugs.

Common cold and sinus medications, for example, contain traces of the same ingredients found in methamphetamines.

Poppy seeds, while a wonderful addition to muffins, scones, and bagels, can cause testers to test positive for traces of opiates. Foods and supplements containing high levels of riboflavin may find a positive testing result for marijuana, since many of these riboflavin-rich foods use hemp oil, which registers on a drug test for traces of THC.

How can someone who is NOT on drugs avoid losing their job due to a false positive result? By notifying testers upfront about any and all medications, prescriptions, or potentially questionable foods you’ve had in the past 30 days. Providing this information upfront will allow the testing administrator to confirm that whichever traces do appear will be accounted for without question.

Notifying the employee

Consulting a lawyer is a good idea if your company is relatively new to company-wide drug testing. Having the layer review your policies and advise you on what actions to take (since laws change over time) will ensure you are properly adhering to your state’s laws regarding the handling of drug tests, employee terminations, and probational rights.


If you find yourself in the position of having a positive result, even after testing twice, you will need to notify your employee(s) immediately and remove them from the work area if they are currently at work.

You can anticipate that the employees who are using drugs will likely have an explanation (excuse) as to why the results came back as they did.

Ask the employee first if there are any medical explanations. Sometimes employees are taking prescribed medications that are within reason if your employee can present the prescription.

Listen and carefully write down the feedback you receive. If a faulty test is to blame (this is why you should test twice for best results), it is very important to record as much as possible to demonstrate how the results of the test were handled.

Sometimes a person takes a cold or sinus medication without knowing that they will in turn create traces of substances on a drug test similar to methamphetamines. It’s important that test administrators are aware of these common trace elements that influence testing as well, so that responses can be easily validated.

For example, if an employee tests positive for THC, and they claim that a poppy seed muffin was the culprit, a savvy testing administrator will know that this excuse is not a valid excuse, since poppy seeds are known to produce traces of opiates, not THC. Proper training of testing administrators is the key to making such assertions.

If you didn’t happen to do two tests the first time around, and you see a positive result, now is an ideal time to retest before notifying the employee, preferably with the very same specimen.

It is NOT advisable to allow the employee to be tested on a completely new sample or at a later date, as allowing notification and time between a retest could give the employee an opportunity to get their hands on an adulterant or other means of manipulating the next drug test taken.

Offering Employees a Chance to Come Clean

Once you notify the employee of their test results, and all other external factors have been ruled out, your company might then provide the employee with a document explaining their options as a result of testing positive, and some possible next steps to take.

It is possible that your employee may choose to abandon their job. However, if given the chance to get help and resume working when they are rehabilitated, many employees appreciate the opportunity to keep their job, and are willing to seek counseling for their drug problem.

Some employees may challenge the results of their tests. When such cases arise, the employee can have another test done at a laboratory at their own expense, using the original specimen. Time is of the essence in such cases, which is why having quick turnaround on testing result is such a benefit.  

Perhaps the most important factor in handling drug tests results is the way in which procedures are followed. The procedures for handling a positive drug test result should remain absolutely consistent for each and every employee, regardless of their position, length of time with the company, performance, or closeness to fellow employees.

When writing your company’s substance abuse policy, options for getting your employee help, in addition to offering resources throughout the year, are a great way to spread the awareness about resources that employees could take advantage of before a test date.

If termination is not the immediate course of action to take after a positive result (and some states prohibit immediate termination for an employee’s first offense, so be sure to review laws carefully before writing your substance abuse policy), then refer the employee to the assistance programs in place.

Having these employee assistance programs in place in advance of testing dates will prevent your company from losing an otherwise good employee due to a drug problem. Investing in an employee’s well-being and health makes for a more supportive work environment.

A typical course of action is to first remove the employee from the working conditions, for the safety of both the employee and fellow employees. If the employee accepts the company’s policies regarding probation and rehabilitation procedures, a probationary period can be initiated, during which time the employee is required to get help whether by visiting a rehabilitation program, or by obtaining professional support from a counselor to work through their reasons for taking drugs.

When the employee returns to work

Upon completing on the required probationary period and rehabilitation process, an employee should once again be tested before returning to work. In instances where companies partner with agencies that provide these rehabilitation services, and such companies will notify employers when the employee is able to return to work.

When the employee returns, it is cause for celebration, since overcoming a drug problem or addiction can be a big challenge. Perhaps your company has a support group for employees who have overcome addiction, where the employee can feel supported at work.

The employee should be able to resume their regular job duties. If your employee’s position within the company is particularly stressful, perhaps adding wellness programs into your company will help them and other employees manage their stress levels, thereby preventing an energetic meltdown. Many companies now offer breaks for circuit training, yoga, mediation, or other activities which give employees time to unwind and recharge in order to manage the mental demands of their workload. These programs have shown to increase employee well-being, encourage health, and productivity at work.

Avoiding Positive Test Results and Saving Time

The best way to avoid getting a positive drug test result in the first place is to make your “No Tolerance” or Substance Abuse Policy crystal clear to every one of your applicants and employees.

Notifying potential hires upfront, and having them sign an acknowledgement that your company conducts drug testing will dissuade those who use drugs from applying, and will save your company the cost of having positive results and lost time in the hiring process.

For existing employees, positive encouragement by developing wellness programs or organizing a wellness committee is a wise step toward preventative care. Having a company full of employees who feel valued and supported improves your workplace culture, and leads to a safer workplace for everyone.