By Stephen Schiavo, Senior Vice President, Human Resources
Each year, Alcohol Awareness Month presents an important opportunity to reflect on how we treat people who are living with the condition of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Since AUD affects about 28 million adults in the United States1, most of us know someone who is living with it.
Science says it’s a chronic, relapsing brain disease. But too often, our society sends the message that it’s a moral failing. Our friends, family members and colleagues deserve better. Shifting this mindset will take a committed effort across stakeholders and settings, including in the workplace.
This is a disease diagnosed not only by symptoms, but by consequences. AUD can make it hard to control one’s drinking and can affect physical and mental health, as well as cause problems with family, friends, and work.2 A shorthand for these consequences - Labor, Law, Love and Labs - reflects the variety of losses people may experience, including their drivers’ licenses, their spousal or familial relationships, their health or even their job.
We in Human Resources can be a part of the solution, so that more people living with AUD get help before there are potentially work-related consequences. One of the most important things we can do is to reduce stigma. We know that stigma prevents people from asking for and getting the help they need. The more we include mental and behavioral health as part of the employee benefits conversation, the more we can help normalize seeking treatment.
While AUD has long been an epidemic in this country, data show that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue3 while simultaneously cutting off people from critical healthcare resources and support systems. As we have returned to the workplace, issues that could remain hidden during the pandemic may now be coming to light. As employers we have both a role to play and a responsibility to help.
At Alkermes, where more than 2,200 employees around the world are committed to improving the lives of people living with cancer, serious mental illness and addiction, we are working to build a “recovery-friendly workplace.” We encourage other companies to work towards this same goal.
Some actions to consider:
Becoming a recovery-friendly employer is a good thing to do for employees, but it’s also good for the business. It could aid in reaching human resources goals, such as improving retention and employee engagement. Losing great talent, due to AUD, is not inevitable. After all, an estimated 11 million Americans self-identify as being in recovery from alcohol or other drug use.4 Some of them may work at your company; others may be just starting their recovery journeys. We have an opportunity to make a difference in their careers and their lives.
2National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder
3Grossman ER, Benjamin-Neelon SE, Sonnenschein S. Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 9;17(24):9189. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17249189. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7763183/
4Kelly, J. F., Bergman, B. G., Hoeppner, B. B., Vilsaint, C. L., & White, W. L. (2017). Prevalence and pathways of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 181(Supplement C), 162-169. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.09.028
Last updated: April 2023
Original article appeared on LinkedIn.com. Republished with permission.