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Employers Addressing Substance Use Disorders Save By

Addressing Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Disorders

Failure to deliver effective care to people with mental health and drug or alcohol problems results in significant costs to the nation’s economy, including considerable costs to employers that result from employee absenteeism, poor job performance, disability and on-the-job accidents. But employers can take action to mitigate these problems.

When a person simultaneously has a mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder, and a substance use disorder (misuse of or dependence on alcohol or other drugs, including prescription drugs), these conditions are said to be co-occurring.

Nearly 17.5 million adults had a serious mental illness in 2004; about 4 million or 23% of those also were dependent on or misused alcohol or illicit drugs. Among people with co-occurring disorders, only 12 percent received both mental health and substance use treatment.

How Co-Occurring Disorders Cost Employers

Untreated mental and substance use disorders contribute to:

Increased healthcare costs

  • One study found that people with co-occurring substance use disorders and depression incurred healthcare costs that were about $5,300 higher than those without the disorders.
  • Co-occurring disorders can complicate existing health conditions and increase the risk for developing other serious medical problems such as cardiac and pulmonary diseases.
  • People whose co-occurring disorders go untreated often access medical care at the acute stage and require high-cost services such as inpatient and emergency room care.

Decreased work productivity:

  • Depression, the most common mental disorder, costs employers $44 billion a year in lost productivity (including worker absenteeism and reduced job performance).
  • Alcohol problems alone cost employers nearly $134 billion in lost productivity in 1998, mostly due to absenteeism and poor work performance.

Risk management concerns

  • Both mental and substance use disorders represent significant risk management issues, because they are associated with increased injuries on the job and increased disability claims.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders Can Save Employers Money

Substance abuse and mental health treatment tailored to the needs of individuals with co-occurring disorders can save companies money by:

  • Improving employee health and lowering healthcare costs,
  • Reducing absenteeism,
  • Reducing risk,
  • Improving job performance, and
  • Reducing costs associated with short- and long-term disability and workers’ compensation

The first step in helping employees get treatment is screening for the disorders. Confidential screening can be conducted by qualified professionals

  • As part of a workplace wellness program,
  • Within an employee assistance program (EAP), or
  • In a physician’s office.

Employees who are determined to need it can then be referred to appropriate treatment. Care and support following treatment may be required to help employees recover from and manage the chronic nature of many co-occurring disorders.

To learn more about the extent of depression in the workplace and the return on investment that your company may get from investing in high-quality depression care, visit the Depression Calculator of the MacArthur Initiative on Depression in Primary Care.

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