When substance misuse is not addressed in its early stages, it can easily lead to abuse and eventual dependence. As with most other chronic medical conditions, early intervention is key to preventing misuse from becoming a full-blown addiction. Employers have an opportunity, and at times of responsibility as well, to help facilitate treatment whenever possible. It does not happen as often as it should.

Statistics cited by the National Business Group on Health suggest that as many as 47% of men and 41% of women who need treatment for alcohol or drugs do not receive that treatment. A lack of treatment is an open door to very significant problems that affect both individual workers and their employers.

There are many different kinds of treatments divided into two primary categories: inpatient and outpatient. Determining the best treatment for the individual requires considering a long list of factors, including:

  • the specific substances being used
  • the length of time the substances have been used
  • coexisting psychological or emotional issues
  • home life and personal relationships
  • current and projected financial circumstances
  • personal history – especially in relation to substance misuse.

Larger employers that maintain their own medical staff may have experts on hand capable of providing drug and alcohol assessments for the purposes of offering treatment referrals. In the absence of such staff, treatment decisions are best left to medical personnel and charities or other organisations specialising in substance abuse and addiction recovery.

Outpatient Treatments

Referring a substance abuser to outpatient treatment is usually the first course of action for the least serious of problems. The main benefit of such treatment is that it can be obtained free of charge from the NHS. As an example, a worker whose binge drinking interferes with his work routine may not yet be drinking heavily enough to be classified as an alcoholic. Yet he still needs outpatient treatment to get his drinking under control.

That individual may be referred to a GP as a first course of action. The GP might recommend counselling along with participation in an alcohol or drug support group. Prescription medication to reduce cravings or deter further drinking might also be used.

Outpatient treatment can include any or all of the following:

  • Prescription Medications – Prescription medications are often used as deterrents or to control cravings. Sometimes they are used as substitute substances – think methadone in place of heroin – as a first step in eventual detoxification.
  • Psychotherapy – Various psychotherapeutic treatments can be offered to help patients get to the root of their individual problems. Such therapies enable the individual to understand what drives him or her to misuse substances, and then develops workable solutions for overcoming.
  • Counselling – Individual and group counselling is usually a part of outpatient treatment for both alcohol and drugs. Counselling offers the individual the opportunity to fully understand the implications of substance misuse and abuse.
  • Group Support – Another popular component of outpatient treatment is group support. This support may be modelled after the traditional 12-step programme developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, or it might be something completely different.
  • Detox – The most severely affected individuals will likely need detox before complete recovery is possible. Detox is a process in which the body is allowed to purge itself of drugs or alcohol through abstinence. Detox in the modern era is usually medically supervised and can include the use of prescription medications.

As effective as outpatient treatment may be for some individuals, it has one inherent deficiency that can be difficult to overcome at times: lack of accountability. Successful outpatient treatment requires a tremendous commitment from the individual to attend all meetings, visit with doctors and other medical professionals, etc. Employers can play a vital role here by interacting with workers to make sure they are following through on their commitments.

Inpatient Treatments

Organisations offering inpatient treatments utilise the same types of therapies (psychotherapy, counselling, etc.) as outpatient programmes, but with one major difference: inpatient treatment is based on a residential model. The residential model involves having the individual take up temporary residence at a treatment facility for up to 12 weeks. During that time, treatments are customised and implemented in a strictly controlled environment.

It is generally recommended that the most hard-core substance users attend residential treatment because of the environment it offers. In fact, the environment of residential treatment is its strength. Residential treatment separates the substance abuser from his or her normal surroundings and lifestyle so that they can fully concentrate on recovery without distraction. Residential treatment also allows clinicians to develop customised treatment plans based on individual circumstances.

Generally speaking, residential treatments in the UK last between 4 and 12 weeks. These are followed by a compendium of aftercare services that typically run between 3 and 12 months. Some programmes are offered free of charge by way of drug and alcohol charities; most are offered by private organisations that charge a fee for their services.

An employer willing to make a financial investment in its workforce might consider partnering with a private residential treatment facility to which workers struggling with drugs and alcohol can be referred. In the absence of direct financial contributions, employers could also consider providing private health insurance, which, in most cases, covers inpatient treatment programmes.

It is imperative for individuals struggling with alcohol and drugs to receive treatment as quickly as possible. When employers can help facilitate such treatments, workplace drug and alcohol policies are then able to reach their full potential for employee support.


  1. BGH – https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/f3151957-2354-d714-5191-c11a80a07294