Drugs and alcohol abuse costs SA businesses dearly

Drug and substance abuse is taking its toll on South African businesses and, with almost 20% of South Africans (one in five adults) abusing alcohol and prescription or recreational drugs, very few companies are exempt. [1]

Vernon Goss, director of the Riverview Manor Rehabilitation Centre in Underberg in the southern Drakensberg, says that although local statistics are hard to come by and often outdated, this is a growing problem.

It’s believed that, in 2014, substance abuse cost the South African economy approximately R40 billion. [2] After a global economic meltdown in 2008 and a massive local recession that began in 2018, these figures are climbing.

“Higher prices and shrinking disposable incomes put immense pressure on wage earners these days. Add to that the fact that companies are not replacing staff or even retrenching and then piling more responsibilities on those left behind and you have an extremely stressful workplace. Growing rates of substance abuse are no surprise,” he points out.

However, the result is potentially catastrophic. Many tasks – such as driving a vehicle, a forklift or operating machinery – require alertness, good motor co-ordination, quick response and reflexes. The survival of a company requires good decision making and attention to detail at the highest level.

Substance abuse impacts negatively on safety and security, resulting in accidents and even fatalities. Absenteeism and increased sick leave, poor decision making and even sleeping on the job due to a hangover can reduce efficiency and production. Substance abuse can also negatively affect the morale and well-being of co-workers or even result in theft to support a growing habit.

According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) in America (where alcohol and drug-related abuse by employees totals $100 billion a year), alcohol and drug users are not only far less productive, but use three times as many sick days, are more likely to injure themselves or someone else and five times more likely to file worker's compensation claims.

Goss notes that, unlike in many other countries, South African labour legislation stipulates that businesses play an active role in assisting employees.

While the Occupational Health and Safety Act sets stringent standards for workplace safety and emphasises the employer’s responsibility for ensuring no alcohol or drug abuse on the job, transgressors can’t simply be dismissed.

The Labour Relations Act says that dependency on alcohol or drugs must be treated as incapacity and not misconduct. Item 10 stipulates that, if an employee informs and employer that he or she is suffering from an addiction, the company is legally obligated to provide help before even considering dismissal.

Goss believes that support from an employer – and the fact that rehabilitation can be funded by medical aid – can have a significant impact, saving companies the added expense of losing valuable skills and experience and hiring and training new staff.

The most important thing of all is finding a treatment facility with a sound track record that provides an intensive program that includes life skills that are vital to a sustained recovery.

Riverview Manor is a private specialist clinic that offers a multi-disciplinary treatment plan. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, it offers psychotherapeutically based treatment and incorporates the best of traditional and modern approaches. “Through our specialist staff, co-ordinated approach and intimate groups, we are able to provide clients with the tools to address their own unique challenges,” Goss explains.

These could include everything from drug and alcohol addiction and dependence to anxiety, depression, trauma and stress. Since the addition of a new wing in 2018, Riverview Manor has constantly updated its programmes to incorporate a growing range of addictions that now also include everything from substance abuse (crystal meth, heroin and cocaine) to prescription medication and even gambling and sex addictions.

Goss notes that one of Riverview’s greatest achievements was being named by British journal, Addiction Today, as one of the top five facilities of its kind in the world. It is also the first South African rehabilitation centre to be accepted as a member of the European Association for the Treatment of Addiction (EATA).

“The best way to begin any journey to recovery is to choose a treatment centre and a partner that you can trust and with whom you feel comfortable. You need to find a place to which you can escape to heal and deal with any addiction that is impacting on your ability to live a healthy life. This must be a place where you are understood and feel nurtured and where you can be confident that you have total privacy and confidentiality. This is particularly important for high profile clients such as CEOs or managers. Because we are located in the rural town, they can participate in supervised activities without fear of recognition,” he explains.


[1] A study published in the South African Medical Journal in 2004.

[2] The annual cost to the country of alcohol abuse alone, in terms of absenteeism, lost productivity, health and welfare costs and alcohol-related crime is estimated at up to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or as much as R37.9-billion annually, according to a 2014 study published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ).