72 Million Reasons for Employers to Stop the Stigma and Address Substance Use in the Workplace

Employer icon
For Employers
5 min read


Substance use and substance use disorders (SUDs) touch nearly every industry. But the stigma surrounding these conditions continues to be a major barrier to seeking help for millions of workers

Stigma not only affects the well-being of employees but also has a profound impact on the businesses they work for, leading to increased healthcare costs, missed time, and lost productivity. HR and benefits managers at large organizations have a powerful role to play in breaking down these barriers to help foster a healthier, more supportive workplace.

Research supports that employers can play a pivotal role in successfully initiating treatment for their employees, often more effectively than friends or family. Pelago CEO and Co-founder Yusuf Sherwani, M.D., emphasizes the unique opportunity employers have to offer the right benefits and break the long-held stigmas around substance use.

“There are millions of workers right now silently struggling with substance use that can’t get the support they need due to stigma or lack of benefits,” said Sherwani. “The costly and widespread nature of this problem across industries, occupations, and job categories indicates this is a pandemic-level issue, where today’s employers have a unique opportunity to be a part of the solution.”

Pelago’s own research has discovered that nearly half of the U.S. workforce, roughly 72 million people, have experienced personal or family problems stemming from substance or alcohol use. Despite this, less than half of those who report a personal problem with substances or alcohol have asked their employer for assistance, largely due to fear of negative repercussions on their careers or relationships.

Pelago’s own research has discovered that nearly half of the U.S. workforce, roughly 72 million people, have experienced personal or family problems stemming from substance or alcohol use.

This silence and inaction comes at a high cost. U.S. employers incur an average of $15,640 in annual costs per employee struggling with an SUD, not to mention the human cost of unaddressed substance use issues.

Pelago Chief Scientific Officer Suzette Glasner, Ph.D., knows that silence sustains stigma. She believes fear of being stigmatized or punished is at the root of much of the hesitancy that people with mental health or substance use disorders experience when thinking about getting the care they need to restore well-being. But Dr. Glasner believes there’s hope that the tide is turning.

“Corporate leaders are starting to take a public stance on stigma, openly sharing their own personal challenges with substance use and mental health disorders,” said Dr. Glasner. “This helps change the conversation and represents the beginning of a major step forward in helping to address stigma in the workplace.”

At Pelago, we understand that stigma surrounding substance use can raise barriers to treatment and block awareness of effective solutions. We often find that employees don’t think there are effective medications for substance use treatment. Or they mistakenly think that high-cost, inconvenient, or out-of-network rehab is the only path to treatment and recovery. At Pelago, we make sure our members know they can get the help they need in a confidential and judgment-free environment.

Addressing this stigma and providing support can significantly benefit both employees and the organization in powerful ways. Employees get the quick, confidential help they need, with first appointments set within 24 hours. Employers, meanwhile, have the peace of mind and confidence that their employees are getting the safe, cost-effective treatment they need.

Here are several additional steps employers can take to address stigma and support employees struggling with SUDs:

  1. Educate and Inform: Provide resources and training about substance use, the realities of SUDs, acceptance, and the recovery process to all employees. Highlight the effectiveness of various treatment options beyond traditional rehab to dispel common myths.
  2. Promote Open Dialogue: Part of what keeps stigma around is avoidance of the topic, either from those in recovery or from those needing or seeking treatment. Foster an environment where employees feel safe discussing substance use and mental health without fear of judgment or punishment.
  3. Offer Comprehensive Benefits: Ensure that health benefits include access to dedicated substance use management with specialized treatment, including counseling and medication-assisted treatment.
  4. Lead with Compassion: Use neutral, person-first language when discussing substance use and encourage leaders within the organization to do the same. This helps reduce stigma and promotes a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.

Now is the time for employers to realize their critical role in addressing the stigma of substance use. As budgets tighten for organizations, Pelago is stepping in to address the rising costs — both physically and mentally — of SUDs.

To demonstrate our commitment to safe, effective, destigmatized substance use treatment, the Pelago team is running its Stop the Stigma motivational campaign. Designed to help people overcome the biggest hurdle in seeking treatment — stigma — the campaign runs throughout February and March for all employee and health plan members. By taking proactive steps to support employees, organizations can not only help individuals in need but also improve overall well-being and productivity.

Pelago’s substance use management program offers a complete and personalized ecosystem of care, guiding each member through a tailored pathway. The advantages of Pelago’s approach include performance guarantees, validated outcomes, cost savings, and return on investment. This includes our recently demonstrated healthcare cost savings of $9,367 with 3x ROI in the first ever ROI study conducted on the impact of a substance use management program in an employer population across multiple clients with a large sample size.

These benefits surpass what EAPs and mental health plans can offer, making Pelago an essential component of a holistic behavioral health strategy. For more information, contact us for a free claims analysis and ask about our 100% fees-at-risk ROI guarantee.

Say hello to brighter days together

Get started quickly. Save costs. Change lives forever.