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Make Addiction Awareness a Priority

By Phil Brit | Nov 7, 2018

For union boards, addiction awareness is critical for ensuring members' health. According to American Addiction Centers, workers in blue-collar jobs, particularly those in manufacturing, mining, food service and construction, tend to have the highest rates of substance abuse. Determining why addiction is so prevalent in these industries starts with looking at the jobs themselves — workers in these industries commonly face long hours, strenuous work, unsteady employment and, in many cases, hazardous working conditions.

While it's not always easy for the board to monitor and respond to substance abuse issues among its members, it is possible to combat addiction with measured, stategic initiatives. Here's what you need to know.

Recognize the Risks and Signs of Addiction

Within professional environments, addiction is often considered a personal problem. After all, one of the foremost concerns with drug addiction is health. People facing drug addictions often suffer from health complications, including lung and heart disease, stroke, damaged nervous systems and other issues. Every addiction carries its own specific health risks — people who take injected drugs make up as much as 10 percent of HIV cases.

The truth, however, is that addiction is rarely confined to one person. It can come from and contribute to a larger culture of addiction, and that can affect wider union membership. This is why one of the first steps in any plan to fight addiction should be awareness. Some of the most common indicators of substance abuse are:

  • Chronic attendance issues
  • Poor performance
  • Behavior problems
  • An inability to foster healthy relationships with co-workers

Teach union stewards and members themselves to recognize the signs, and they'll have a better chance of acknowledging addiction among their peers. Giving members these tools allows them to see that workplace problems they may be facing — for example, consistently having to cover shifts for or dealing with bouts of rage from a fellow member — might actually be signs of addiction.

Develop Strategies for Combating Addiction

Substance abuse is an easier battle to fight when an addicted member has the support of a community, such as a union. Knowing that their union board has resources already in place can make the decision for members to get help that much simpler. Here are some effective ways for unions to bring aid to addicted members:

  • Pay attention to warning signs. An occasional missed shift or instance of poor performance isn't uncommon, even for top workers. But if occasional mishaps become chronic problems, it's an indication that a member may need help. Create channels to help stewards escalate concerns to the employer or board.
  • Offer opportunities for members to seek help. Even if members want help, they might be hesitant to approach the board for it. So take the initiative on addiction assistance. This initiative can come in the form of structured assistance programs or more general education, such as items in the union newsletter promoting community-based addiction centers, recovery hotlines and addiction-related groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • Craft a health care plan with addiction awareness in mind. A health care plan that includes coverage for addiction prevention, treatment and counseling can make members feel more confident in their ability to face their problems. Be sure to publicize these benefits so members know they're available and how to take advantage of them.

Addiction is a complicated problem, and it requires smart, strategic solutions. Engaging with members about how to recognize and address addiction will provide the basis for a healthier, more connected membership.

Phil Britt has worked as a journalist for 40 years, specializing in business issues for the last 30. His work covering the steel industry and its labor issues has been referenced in books, while his articles have appeared on numerous websites, national and international publications. Among current and past clients have been the American Medical Association, Afcom, the Credit Union National Association, Independent Banker, EH Publishing, the Southeast Chicago Development Commission, the Northwest Indiana Times and Insurance & Technology Magazine, just to name a few.