How Employers Can Tackle the Rising Problem of Alcohol and Drug Misuse During the Covid 19 Pandemic

Posted on 30th March 2021
Alcohol and Drug Misuse Awareness Training

Mel Vella, founder of Melvel Training talks to REALSENSE’s Kate Lindop about the UK’s rising problem of alcohol and drug misuse that faces employers during the Covid-19 pandemic and considers advice and guidance for organisations with staff transitioning back to the workplace in the coming months.

Mel Vella, founder of Melvel Training

Mel Vella, founder of Melvel Training

With an editorial in the British Medical Journal stating that ‘tackling harmful drinking during lockdown will be an integral part of the nation’s recovery’ and Alcohol Change reporting that 1 in 5 adults have been drinking more often in the last 12 months, I asked Mel Vella, founder of Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Company Melvel Training to share her insights and guidance about the rising problem of drug and alcohol misuse due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and to explain what impact this may have for organisations in the coming months as employees return to the workplace.

“There have been a number of studies assessing drug and alcohol use during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ explains Mel, ‘All of which indicate a significant increase in the UK. For employers, this poses a potential minefield in the coming weeks and months. What happens when employees with an increased dependency on drugs or alcohol return to the workplace?”

 

Employee use of alcohol use during lockdown – statistics and reasons

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a yougov.co.uk poll found that on any given day, 200,000 people went to work with a hangover and one in four admitted to making mistakes due to being hungover.

These figures are thought to have significantly increased since lockdown began in March 2020, with Mel explaining that:

“CIPD research has found that 27% of people say their alcohol consumption has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”

A quick poll amongst friends and family found that many people had received flippant texts, memes or gifs about drinking at their desks during the day or using alcohol as a coping strategy – especially when dealing with furlough or juggling working from home with the additional stress of home schooling. Other reasons for the increase in alcohol consumption include depression, worry and loneliness. (Global Drug Survey – UK response – cited by Health Europa).

“Many people have reported that during lockdown they start drinking earlier in the day than they would if they were at work,” says Mel “And homeworkers may not realise that company Drug and Alcohol policies still apply when they are working from home”.

“It can also be difficult to know how many units of alcohol we consume at home as we don’t necessarily measure the amount of alcohol we pour, and it is easy to keep going back to have ‘just one more’”.

With alcohol factoring in one in four workplace accidents prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than 17 million lost working days being attributed to alcohol use, this is a growing workplace issue that has the potential to affect all employers in the months and years post-lockdown.

 

Drug use amongst employees is increasing too

Drugs are commonplace and most people will have used a drug at some point in their life – caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and paracetamol are just a few examples. However, any drug can be harmful if it is misused.

According to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA)

“More antidepressants were prescribed in March, April and June 2020 than in the same months the previous year”

Although part of a wider trend of antidepressant use, this is the highest figure on record, with an increase of 11%, 7% and 8% respectively.

“All medicines can cause side effects, particularly if not used as recommended,” Mel explains “and due to the already existing mental health crisis in the UK being intensified by lockdown and the pandemic, many employees who return to the workplace after lockdown will now be using anti-depressants, sleeping tablets or other forms of self-medication, all of which can have side-effects that potentially affect their ability to carry out their job role”.

 

Employees may need additional support returning to the workplace

Although prescription drugs have many benefits, often during the pandemic they’ve been prescribed as a “short-term solution, during a time where there has been difficulty in accessing the support of a counsellor or GP” states Mel. “Employees may need additional support to transition back to the workplace and employers should be aware that many prescription drugs (and even cough and cold medicines) can have side-effects including drowsiness which can affect performance, concentration and alertness. “This safety issue needs to be addressed especially amongst those employees using heavy equipment, driving regularly as part of their job or undertaking manual labour”.

Additionally, employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees so should consider the processes and resources they have in place to support the transition back to the workplace. Employees may need additional help and support to manage ongoing mental health concerns as well as potential problems arising from alcohol or prescription drug use.

Illegal drug use has increased in the last 12 months too, with the British Medical Journal reporting that the number of people using illegal drugs globally has risen by 30% over the past decade to 269 million. They also state that “the Covid-19 pandemic could worsen the situation because the resulting restrictions on borders and other areas are causing shortages of drugs locally, leading to increased prices and reduced purity”.

Workplace awareness training and communication is important around this issue as illegal substance use can also impact on the workplace. Employers are breaking the law if they knowingly allow illegal drug-related activities to take place in the workplace.

 

Preparing for the return to work – Your Drug and Alcohol Policy

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) states that employers and employees have a duty to maintain a safe work environment. The focus is on health, safety and welfare.

Mel explained to me that “an employer or employee or both could be liable if a drug or alcohol-related accident occurs at work, yet many organisations still feel that they have no need for a Drugs and Alcohol policy”. All organisations are different and will take a different stance on what is acceptable, but there are clearly defined workplace regulations that must be adhered to and these should be explained clearly to employees through policies and training.

With increased alcohol and drug use being reported by so many people, employers should be acting now to make sure that potential problems and issues are addressed before employees return to the workplace.

According to the HSE, understanding the signs of drug and alcohol misuse will help you to manage health and safety risk in your workplace, be compliant with health and safety obligations, reduce business risk and support your employees. A Drugs and Alcohol Policy could form a part of your company Health and Well-being policy or Health and Safety Policy and offer help and support as well as detailing when the disciplinary procedure may be used.

 

Drug and Alcohol Awareness Online Training

There are extensive benefits to implementing drugs and alcohol awareness training for your staff including:

  • All employees are given concise guidance on what is and is not acceptable behaviour in your organisation.
  • Reduced sickness and staff turnover and increased productivity levels due to reduction and prevention of the issues.
  • Employer and employee responsibilities are clearly set out and understood.
  • Line managers and supervisors are given clear guidance regarding procedures to follow.
  • Employees are aware of the support available to them and the importance of their welfare is demonstrated.
  • Having policies in place will help you meet your legal health and safety responsibilities and improve the health and wellness of employees.

Our Drug and Alcohol Awareness courses developed in partnership with Mel Vella at Melvel Training give detailed information about the problems associated with the use of drugs and alcohol, the impact of misuse on the workplace and information about what you can do to minimise potential risks of drugs and alcohol.

We have specifically tailored courses for employers or employees. Our Drugs and Alcohol Awareness for Managers course also provides guidance on developing and implementing a workplace Drugs and Alcohol Policy.

REALSENSE is currently offering a free trial of either of the online Drugs and Alcohol Awareness training courses which look at the aspects covered in this article but in much greater detail and aim to ensure that your organisation is ready for the return to the workplace whilst supporting the welfare and well-being of your employees.

To find out more, take a look at our Drugs and Alcohol Awareness training courses where you can purchase the course or request a free trial or alternatively contact us on 01332 208500. If you have employees working from home, you might find our remote worker training courses helpful.

 

Additional Resources

MelVel Training – https://melveltraining.co.uk/
Drink Aware – https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/
DrugWise – https://www.drugwise.org.uk/
NHS Choices – https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/drug-addiction-getting-help/
Release – https://www.release.org.uk/

Kate Lindop

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