Substance abuse impacts co-workers

September 20, 1999

Employees in workgroups suffer negative effects from co-worker substance use, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Institute of Behavioral Research, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, found that work environment has a more significant role to play in workplace substance use than previously believed.

"The costs of workplace substance use is felt by colleagues and can have negative consequences, especially if the job involves a degree of risk," said Joel Bennett, co-researcher for the study.

According to the study, group occupational structure may be an important factor in determining whether employee substance use will cause problems for others. For example, employees in workgroups that involved risk -- such as working with heavy machinery -- were more vulnerable to the effects of co-worker substance use than employees who worked in groups with less occupational risk. The results of the study appear in the current issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Additionally, the scientists found that groups with social climates that included drinking were more likely than groups without drinking climates to experience negative effects of co-worker substance use -- such as morale problems, increased chance of injury in the workplace, damaged equipment, poor quality work, and poor communication in the work group.

"Previous studies and examinations of financial loss caused by employee substance use have neglected the more immediate, personal, and psychological costs for employees who by virtue of workgroup membership associate with others who use alcohol or drugs," said Bennett.

The scientists analyzed questionnaire results of 1,528 municipal workers from two cities in the southwestern United States representing 99 different workgroups. Questions were asked about exposure to co-worker substance use and negative consequences of that use, as well as individual employee and group-level characteristics of substance use.

The authors discussed the implications of their study for workplace policy. They have applied the results from this study by developing, delivering, and evaluating a new team-oriented training that seeks to give work groups skills for encouraging co-workers to get help, such as from employee assistance and behavioral health care.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a peer-reviewed quarterly publication of the American Sociological Association. For information about the journal, contact John Mirowsky, Ph.D., 614-688-8673.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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