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Home > A review of drug and alcohol use in the workforce in Northern Ireland.

Campbell, Anne and Blair, Carolyn (2020) A review of drug and alcohol use in the workforce in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Northern Ireland Alcohol and Drugs Alliance.

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The use of drugs and/or alcohol has been acknowledged as a serious workplace issue. Not only can problematic use lead to significant health problems but the influence of drugs or alcohol in the workplace may lead an individual to take unnecessary risks or put others at risk causing significant health and safety issues. It is not only illegal drugs that precipitate concerns at work; misuse of prescription drugs and alcohol can also cause problems for some individuals. An employee who works under the influence of substances, either as overtly intoxicated or experiencing prolonged effects from the ‘night before’ may demonstrate impaired performance and have a negative impact on colleagues, service users and customers.

The link between employee substance use and concomitant problems in the workplace is multi-directional. Research shows that employees in some industries are more likely to become heavy or dependent drinkers (WHO, 2013). Alcohol Change (2019) states that mining and construction, hospitality, arts and entertainment, utilities, and wholesale workers are most vulnerable. However, other important risk factors have been identified as increasing the likelihood of substance-related harm, including shift work, low job security or lack of control and changes or upheaval at work (Alcohol Change, 2019). In addition, on average, consumption tends to be higher among people in managerial and professional roles compared to lower-paid occupations (NHS Digital, 2018). Public Health England (2016) estimate that lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion annually, and an estimated 167,000 working days are lost to alcohol use every year.

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