Australia is a caring country which is evidenced by its focus on helping people retain their jobs and restore their lives when the ravages of addiction threaten to destroy people’s entire livelihoods. Australian employers play a significant role in this process because they have shown a willingness to help employees trapped by substance addictions by providing assistance in a variety of ways. For example, many employers allow employees paid or unpaid leave time while the employee attends a substance abuse treatment program.
Workplace alcohol and drug testing programs play a critical role in the overall national effort to promote harm minimisation. Alcohol is the most common drug used though most people don’t think of it as a drug. Alcohol treatment episodes accounted for 46 percent of government funded treatments in 2008-2009. For that same time period, heroin accounted for 10 percent, cannabis for 22 percent and amphetamines for 9 percent. The remaining treatment episodes were for other types of substances.1
In addition to understanding what common substances employees are most likely to be using, it is also interesting to note that over one-third of treatment episodes were begun based on self referral. In other words, people decided of their own free will to seek counselling. Many people addicted to alcohol or drugs want help ending their addiction and then need help with staying away from the drug of choice. The drug and alcohol program instituted in the workplace detects substance use via saliva drug tests or breathalyser tests, but this program can also be supplemented with a mentoring program.
A Step Beyond
A workplace mentoring program goes a step beyond a simple policies and procedures information program. In the traditional workplace drug testing program, employees attend informational programs where the rules are spelled out concerning testing procedures and consequences if illicit substance use is discovered. Mentoring programs, on the other hand, build a framework of support and encouragement within the organisation that includes:
- Promotion of zero tolerance workplace
- Employees able to seek counselling service when needed without recriminations
- Teaching employees about specific substances and their health effects
- Employee participation in company-wide programs promoting substance abuse awareness
- Promotion of general health and welfare of employees as a lifestyle
- Trained co-workers able to identify substance abuse and intervene as needed (peer intervention)
Mentoring programs discourage alcohol and drug use by first teaching employees the specific dangers of substance abuse and then providing a clear path to finding assistance or treatment. The program works in conjunction with random drug and alcohol testing. Employees are full participants in the design, management and delivery of workplace educational programs. In addition, the employer mentoring program should have an established referral system so that an employee can be offered specific assistance. For example, the employer could partner with a non-profit counselling agency willing to accept self-referrals.
The difference between an awareness campaign and a mentoring program is that employees have options that encourage self-acknowledgement of an alcohol or drug problem. Rather than waiting for a workplace drug test to ‘catch’ the substance user, the employee is able to get help without loss of job.
Empowering Employees to Live Substance Free Lives
It’s a fact that up to 80 percent of drug users solve their drug related problems without professional treatment. Instead, they rely on self-help and self-initiated change. A mentoring program empowers people to take control of their own lives, and sometimes empowerment is all that is needed for sustainable change.2 A quality mentoring program empowers employees by creating a workplace environment that provides the empowering support system people need to stay substance free or to self-initiate change in the case of addiction.
CMM Technology at http://www.cmm.com.au/ works with employers in a variety of industries to establish quality alcohol and drug testing programs able to supplement workplace mentoring programs. Using accurate testing equipment is critical to promoting employee trust.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2010). Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2008-09 (Drug Treatment Series Number 10). Retrieved from Australian National Council on Drugs: http://www.ancd.org.au/drugs-in-australia/national-data.html#DUM
- Major-Blatch, Lynne. (2008, October). Substance use in the 21st Century: Different or more of the same. Retrieved from Australian Psychological Society: http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/substance_use/#s4