New Analysis: Employers Can Save Average of $8,500 for Supporting Each Employee in Recovery from Substance Use Disorder

NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago overhaul tool to help employers understand the true price of substance misuse among employees.

December 02, 2020

Itasca, IL – As substance use disorders across the country rise, so do the potential costs to employers if they ignore the issue, but addressing it can lead to significant savings. According to new research released today, the annual average additional costs to an employer for each worker with an untreated substance use disorder (SUD) have risen 30% in just three years. Employers spend an average of $8,817 annually on each employee with an untreated SUD, according to the findings from NORC at the University of Chicago and the National Safety Council.[i] Encouragingly, each employee who recovers from a SUD saves a company over $8,500 on average, according to the analysis – and employer-initiated treatment is more successful than treatment initiated by friends or family members.[ii]  

Additionally, the analysis shows that workers in recovery miss 13.7 fewer days each year than workers with an untreated SUD, and 3.6 less days than an average employee. Workers who are actively in recovery help employers avoid $8,175 in turnover, replacement and healthcare costs.  

To help employers understand how substance misuse impacts their bottom lines – and what they can save by addressing it – NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago have updated the Substance Use Cost Calculator, funded by Nationwide, with the new data and analysis. Originally released in 2017, the interactive tool allows businesses to input basic statistics about their workforce such as industry, location and number of employees. The results show estimated prevalence of substance use disorders among employees and their dependents, associated costs and potential savings if employees and their family members obtain treatment for their substance use disorders. 

“Business leaders are facing unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic, and an influx of substance use disorders is among the most pressing,” said Lorraine M. Martin, NSC president and CEO. “We hope the Substance Use Cost Calculator will show in plain terms the costs of doing nothing versus the costs of addressing addiction head-on. Our national recovery from the pandemic depends on employers playing a robust role. Ensuring they address substance misuse is among the most significant way they can assist, not to mention one of the greatest ways they can directly support their employees, who are fueling our nation.”

“What employers do can save lives,” said Tracy McPherson, senior research scientist in the Public Health department at NORC at the University of Chicago. “This tool, developed in a partnership between NSC and NORC, clearly shows that employers benefit when workers with a substance use problem get treated for this illness. Untreated, substance use is a risk for workers, their families, and their employers.”

“The updated Substance Use Cost Calculator is an invaluable tool that helps businesses like ours develop a more tangible understanding of how addiction impacts the workplace,” said Tina Thornton, Nationwide’s leader of associate health and wellbeing. “We’ve been using this tool to help us not only come to realize the impact of addiction at work, but also to recognize the appropriate resources we need to bring to our affected associates and their families to help them move toward recovery.”

The nation’s sobriety has been an unwitting casualty of COVID-19. More than forty states have reported increases in substance misuse and opioid-related overdoses as people grapple with stress and mental health issues brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic. Additionally, while employers have struggled with workplace safety in the U.S., there is another issue to prioritize as they grapple with new working conditions, environments and procedures: their policies around substance misuse and programs to support employees who may have developed addictions, which cost society more than $696 billion annually. Seventy percent of adults struggling with a substance use disorder are in the workforce, although adults with substance use disorders are more likely to be unemployed, according to the analysis. 

Other findings from the analysis include: 

  • One in 12 workers has an untreated substance use disorder. Even industries with lower rates, such as public administration and protective services, have an average rate of 6% of employees with SUDs in their workforce.  
  • Construction, mining and service occupations have the highest rates of alcohol and other drug use disorders – and jobs in these industries are often safety-sensitive positions. Education, healthcare, and professional and protective services jobs have the lowest. 
  • Jobs with a large percentage of male employees – and in many cases, younger men – have higher rates of substance use disorder. In the construction field, for instance, 19% of workers (one in five) have a substance use disorder.
  • As was the case in 2017 when NORC and NSC initially released the Substance Use Cost Calculator, industries with higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also have more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders.
  • Workers in recovery tend to be strong employees. They take approximately eight days off each year compared to the average 11.6 days off taken annually by workers without substance use disorders. Workers in recovery also tend to stay in jobs longer, are less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer primary care visits. 
  • According to the analysis, the average employer pays $2,918 in health insurance premiums or self-pay annually for workers without substance use disorders. For those with substance use disorders, those costs are approximately $4,770 per worker, and $3,961 per worker in recovery. 

Developed through scientific analysis, the Substance Use Cost Calculator provides the individual costs of alcohol, prescription pain medication, marijuana and illicit drug use, and is broken down by industry and number of employees. The cost calculator is available at nsc.org/drugsatwork. NSC has also created the Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit to help employers implement policies for addressing substance misuse in the workplace. To download the free toolkit, click here.


About the National Safety Council
The National Safety Council is America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate – and has been for over 100 years. As a mission-based organization, we work to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing our efforts on the workplace, roadway and impairment. We create a culture of safety to not only keep people safer at work, but also beyond the workplace so they can live their fullest lives.

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago is an objective, non-partisan research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business, and policy decisions. Since 1941, NORC has conducted groundbreaking studies, created and applied innovative methods and tools, and advanced principles of scientific integrity and collaboration. Today, government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge. www.norc.org

[i] The rising average costs for workers with untreated SUD is due in part to increased healthcare costs, as well as inclusion of other variables such as the costs of medications, substance use treatment and mental health treatments. Included in the costs to employers are healthcare, absenteeism, turnover and replacement.

[ii] (2009) Substance use, symptoms, and employment outcomes of persons with a workplace mandate for chemical dependency treatment. Psychiatric Services, 60(5), 646-654.

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