The Impact of Addiction in Employees’ Families
Addiction is a family disease, even in the workplace.
I worked for four years in adolescent mental health, taking part in the journeys of hundreds of teens. Addiction and substance use disorder was a very common struggle for my students, and as I accumulated experience with this population, specific patterns emerged. One of the most striking patterns is the devastation that addiction has on family systems.
We so often tend to embrace an isolationist model of human beings, yet humans are innately social. We are a part of our systems, starting with the family, and when the family system cracks, the individual is put through extreme stress and pressure.
This seemed to be a universal truth voiced by those with whom I worked: parents’ careers were jeopardized by behaviors of their kids or spouses. Missed time at work, blown assignments, and strained relationships within their companies were commonly reported. Such consequences feed a cycle of frustration, shame, and pain for the family as a whole. No individual family member walks through the flame untouched. How could we expect them to?
At Workit, we ask the question: From an employer standpoint, how do we understand the silent battle that many of our employees fight on a daily basis? How can we quantify the pain, disengagement, and emotional drain that comes from dealing with such damage inside the home?
As employers, we want our employees to be well. We want good things for our people, and we want good things for the organization. These interests tend to merge in the long term.
Yet, even if we examine only what we can measure from a business standpoint, the numbers are compelling. If we take SAMHSA’s estimated 8.1% substance use disorder rate from 2014, which is one of the lower estimates available, and extrapolate generally, we find:
- In a family of two adults, the odds of addiction in the household would be 15.5%.
- In a family of four (with children 12 years or older), the odds of having at least one member exhibit substance abuse dependency increases to 28.7%. (1)
These figures, of course, are imperfect. They assume equal distribution across factors such as socio-economic status, family history, and geographic location. Yet the evidence that we have supports the notion that addiction is a universal problem. (2)
And while we can’t measure every aspect of the problem, we can pinpoint some ways that employees facing family addiction are likely to be affected:
- Decreased ability to focus on work
- Social withdrawal
- Lowered morale
- Increased likelihood of employee exit
- Overall worsened performance
It becomes clear that addiction in the family is a real threat to wellness, both for employees and organizations. The question, now, is what are we going to do about it?