Hybrid Worker Substance Misuse on Collision Course with Return to Work

More and more businesses require workers to report back to the office as the pandemic ends. While many will find this a welcome adjustment, some remote workers with drug use issues may find it a painful awakening.

Working-age Americans with substance use disorders have increased by 23%, reaching 27 million, according to a May 2022 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Approximately one in six people who were working at the time of the survey fall into this category. The study’s impact is still felt today, with a 9% to 26% decline in labor force participation. This is a result of long-term remote or hybrid employment arrangements that provide the risky trinity of a stable salary, access to drugs and alcohol, and cover from prying eyes.

According to a survey done in November 2021 by a drug recovery company, 20% of US employees acknowledged using recreational drugs while working remotely. They also acknowledged that they consumed alcohol prior to virtual sessions. A digital recovery center also noted in August 2022 that one in five people thought substance abuse had a negative impact on their ability to succeed at work. In the wake of the pandemic, according to addiction specialists who treat mainly employed patients, their treatment programs are overenrolled due to lengthy remote or hybrid arrangements. This provides a dangerous trifecta. As a result, drug use was unchecked and only recently came to light when more employers required employees to return to work.

The last thing to abandon is employment. Employees believe it is a passing phase and that once they return to work, everything will be fine. Employers are on guard. Random workplace drug testing increased by 37% between 2021 and 2022, according to surveys conducted by a reputable screening business. Of course, as long as there have been employers, there have been people disguising their drug usage from them. But prior to the epidemic, most excesses were confined to the evening hours. There may be a mixed trend when people work remotely. Less drug misuse, which is defined as using drugs against medical advice while adversely affecting health and functioning, is shown in industries that include safety measures like drug testing and access to therapists, like the healthcare industry.

Hybrid work reduces five- to ten-year downhill spirals to a matter of months, in part by removing a significant social barrier to addiction to drugs or other substances: spending enough time near healthy people. Millions of employees who are dependent on their jobs frequently oppose instructions to return to business. They are taking their time since they are aware that they are not in the same condition as before the outbreak. They are attempting to curtail drug abuse. Right now, this is a very real occurrence. Addiction specialists point out that those with the right training can deal with resistance from addicted workers in a supportive and sympathetic manner. Businesses must ensure that managers regularly check in with their staff and that everyone feels comfortable seeking counseling.