Workplace addiction should be met with treatment-friendly policies

By February 18, 2016 May 15th, 2017 Stepworks Connect
Stepworks, science of addiction

Workplace addiction was the topic of a Boyle County public forum in which Stepworks’ Dr. Tom Ingram was a featured speaker. Pam Wright of The Advocate-Messenger covered the forum and threw a spotlight on Dr. Ingram’s remarks about understanding addiction. Dr. Ingram emphasized that understanding addiction as a common brain disease is essential to helping employees get treatment for their condition.

The article by Pam Wright provides great coverage of Dr. Ingram’s explanation of addiction as a brain disease. While we’ll provide some highlights here, it’s worth visiting the website of The Advocate-Messenger to read the article in full.

Address workplace addiction by creating a stigma-free environment

According to Wright’s reporting, multiple speakers at the forum urged promoting “recovery-friendly workplaces” as a way to help employees get needed care and improve workplace productivity at the same time. Dr. Ingram stated that up to 10 percent of any given company’s workforce has substance use problems. In addition to potential productivity gaps related to substance abuse, this hidden problem may burden companies with higher medical insurance claims.

Not only do employers risk harm to their bottom line by ignoring workplace addiction, but they also risk indirectly endangering employees who are reluctant to seek treatment. That’s because their reluctance might stem from the fear of being fired if their addiction problems are made public. “Recovery-friendly workplaces” would first seek to provide resources to employees to help them find treatment instead of further stigmatizing or penalizing them. This would be a win-win for employers and workers, according to the speakers’ comments.

Understanding the basic science of addiction can help employers create workplace addiction policies

After his remarks focusing on workplace addiction, Dr. Ingram gave an overview of what addiction is so that employers might start with a medically valid foundation of knowledge.

Pam Wright writes that Dr. Ingram described addiction as a damaged limbic system. He spoke about how substance abuse can break the brain’s ability to regulate dopamine. This is similar to how diabetes is a condition associated with a damaged pancreas. Dr. Ingram also discussed how addiction can be caused by genetic predisposition, but also by trauma and stress.

When companies create policies around workplace addiction, they should be equipped with the knowledge that relapse is a symptom of addiction. Wright quotes Dr. Ingram emphasizing that relapse must be “an expectation and not a failure.” Employers should find a balance that helps employees find care while keeping them accountable for addressing their health problem. Returning to the overarching point of Dr. Ingram’s talk, this stigma-reducing orientation provides benefits to employers and employees alike.

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