49% of U.S. Workers Are Struggling With Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Study shows substance abuse and addiction have nearly doubled among workers since the pandemic began

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent study shows a significant increase in alcohol and other substance use affecting 49% of American workers. The 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update, conducted by Versta Research on behalf of The Standard, measures changes in workplace behavioral health stemming from the pandemic.

Of the 49% of workers who reported struggling with some level of addiction, the number of workers reporting lower productivity or missed work because of substance abuse or addiction has nearly doubled since 2019, with about one-third (36%) further reporting that it has affected their work more since the pandemic began. Nearly half of full-time workers now report problem use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, and one in five (19%) report at least weekly usage. Alcohol remains the most common substance abused by workers, while 1 in 10 report struggling with prescription medication during the past year.

“The research not only reveals an alarming rate of alcohol and other substance abuse among workers across a variety of industries and generations, but also paves the way for employers to open the conversation with employees about these issues. In this way, companies can empower workers to seek the help and support they need,” said Dr. Dan Jolivet, Workplace Possibilities practice consultant at The Standard. “When an employee is living with a substance-use issue, oftentimes a job is something positive to hold onto, and one of the strongest sources of support and encouragement can come from an employer.”

It is important for organizations to destigmatize behavioral health issues in the workplace and provide reassurance, encouragement and support to find appropriate solutions. For example, offering access to early intervention and treatment programs or making reasonable accommodations for employees, including stay-at-work and return-to-work services, are valuable steps employers can take to support their employees through this disruptive time. Employers may also partner with disability carriers like The Standard, who understand effective behavioral health solutions and can support struggling employees reach positive outcomes.

To access more insights and resources from The Standard, visit standard.com/behavioralhealth.

The Standard’s 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update

Versta Research conducted the 2020 Behavioral Health Pandemic Impact study on behalf of The Standard, surveying 1,425 full-time employees in the U.S. about mental and behavioral health issues in the workplace. The survey measured changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic since an initial survey of 2,004 employees conducted from September to October 2019. All respondents were between the ages of 18 and 69, employed full-time, aware of employer-sponsored disability benefits and whether their employer offered those benefits and if they participated in them. All industries and economic sectors except federal government employees were included. Final data were weighted to bring oversampled industries back down to their proper proportions and to ensure comparability to 2019 data.

In the overall respondent total, mental health was measured using the Kessler K6 scale with cutoff criteria recommended in “Validity Study of the K6 Scale as a Measure of Moderate Mental Distress Based on Mental Health Treatment Need and Utilization” published in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research in June 2012. Addiction and substance abuse were measured using three items from the TAPS-1 quick-screen tool from the National Institute on Drug Use to assess frequency of problem use of alcohol, prescription medication and illicit substances. Problem use of substances was not measured in 2019, so comparisons are not available.

About The Standard

The Standard is a family of companies dedicated to helping customers achieve financial well-being and peace of mind. In business since 1906, we are a leading provider of financial protection products and services for employers and individuals. Our products include group and individual disability insurance, group life, dental and vision insurance, voluntary (employee-paid) benefits, absence management services, and retirement plans and annuities for employers and individuals. For more information about The Standard, visit standard.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

The Standard is the marketing name for StanCorp Financial Group, Inc., and its subsidiaries: Standard Insurance Company, The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York, Standard Retirement Services, Inc., StanCorp Mortgage Investors, Inc., StanCorp Investment Advisers, Inc., StanCorp Real Estate, LLC, and StanCorp Equities, Inc.



Lisa Martin-Bomnskie