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Why I became a therapist
What is your favorite food? Ice cream? Pizza? Maybe a delicious summer peach? Imagine eating that food. The joy you get from it. Could you eat it every day? When you’re eating it, do you feel like you could never get enough?
That’s how I feel about people.
I love people. I love listening to their stories, learning what they like and dislike, and how they became who they are. I love supporting people through hard times and celebrating good times. When I became a therapist, those who have known me longest and best weren’t at all surprised.
How my specialty chose me
In graduate school, every therapist-to-be is asked the same question: Which population/issue would you never want to treat? My answer, as a newly minted grad student, was addictions.
But when I graduated, my first job as a therapist was working in an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center, and I loved it. It was challenging and multifaceted.
A significant number of individuals who struggle with addiction have experienced trauma early in their lives, and many have never received treatment. The job allowed me to help people who had suffered for decades and were finally able to access care.
Alcohol and drug use affects all areas of a person’s life, especially their work life and sometimes their ability to work at all. People who are brilliant, hard workers, charismatic, and emotionally intelligent can be sidelined to remedial jobs because of the role alcohol or drugs plays in their lives.
It’s a sad thing to watch. And oftentimes, employers don’t know this is the root cause of their professional decline.
The impact of substance use addiction in the workplace
According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, "approximately 70% of all adults with an alcohol or illicit drug use disorder are employed. Nearly 9% of all employed adults (approximately 13.6 million workers) have current alcohol or illicit drug use disorders, while a relatively equal number (approximately 13.4 million workers) report that they are in recovery or have recovered from a substance use problem."
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, assisting even a few workers with substance use addiction can positively affect a place of employment. Savings can be realized from decreased health care claims and absenteeism and increased productivity.
Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol do not have to indulge on the job to have a negative impact on the workplace.
The National Safety Council's substance use cost calculator for employers is a tool you can use to obtain specific information for your organization—including the cost of prescription drug use and misuse, alcohol use and misuse, opioid and heroin addiction, and other illicit drugs and cannabis—based on the size of your employee base, industry, and state.
Supporting employees struggling with alcohol and drug use
To lessen the negative impact in the workplace, employers can address substance misuse by:
- Implementing a workplace substance use/misuse policy
- Learning the warning signs of possible substance misuse
- Guiding employees who exhibit such signs toward resources and professional help
Common warning signs of an alcohol or drug use problem may include:
- Absenteeism, particularly absences without notification, or excessive use of sick days
- Frequent disappearances from the worksite with long, unexplained absences and/or improbable excuses
- Unreliability in keeping appointments and meeting deadlines
- Work performance that alternates between periods of high and low productivity
- Progressive deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene
- Increasing personal and professional isolation
- Physical signs such as morning-after hangovers, exhaustion, hyperactivity, dilated pupils, slurred speech, or an unsteady walk
Wellness in the workplace
The global pandemic changed the way we work and the way employees want to work going forward. It also gave us a window into how employers can better support employee wellness in the workplace.
Here are a few tips on how to do this effectively:
- Build as much flexibility as possible into all employees’ schedules
- Offer access to apps that can help with sleep and stress reduction
- Consider offering a meditation room, mindfulness training, and/or yoga classes at work
- Encourage employees to use their vacation time
- Provide accommodations and develop a return-to-work process so that employees who need to take a leave of absence because of a mental health issue feel supported when they come back
Creating opportunities for employees to build connections with each other, such as through social events, affinity groups, and electronic message boards, also matters. Employees who feel connected to their co-workers are less vulnerable to stress inside and outside of the workplace.
How Spring Health removes the barriers to care
Spring Health provides an opportunity for employees who are struggling with all kinds of issues, including substance misuse, to seek care in a destigmatized and confidential manner.
My favorite thing about working at Spring Health reminds me of my first job at the rehab center: I am impacting the lives of those who have been experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance use, and other mental health disorders for decades, but have never known how to seek treatment.
Spring Health significantly reduces the barriers to accessing care, allowing many employees to obtain mental healthcare for the first time in their lives.
One of the most important things an employer can do is support their employees' mental health. Providing unobstructed access to care is one way to do this. Others include:
- Training managers on what to do if they see signs of emotional distress or substance use
- Consider using surveys, such as the Work Limitations Questionnaire and the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire, to measure how your employees’ health and stress levels are affecting their productivity
- Offer a mental health solution like Spring Health as part of your healthcare plan
- Talk about mental health issues regularly as an organization, to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources
- Offer workshops so employees can learn more about mental health and resilience.
October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month—a time to bring greater awareness to the impact of substance use addiction. Maybe today is the day you can help someone seek treatment for the first time.
Discover Spring Health’s personalized, proactive approach to alcohol and drug use support for your employees, from early detection and care delivery to recovery and beyond.