The Living Room, a Hertfordshire-based charity that offers free counselling treatment to adults suffering from addiction, is using its membership of the Chamber of Commerce as an opportunity to break down stigma and develop an understanding of addiction in the workplace. Since it was established in 2000, thousands of Hertfordshire residents have sought treatment at The Living Room. Adrienne Arthurs, chief executive at The Living Room, explains, “They do so because the effects of their addiction on their wellbeing and that of their family have become unbearable. But the addiction also takes its toll on all aspects of a person’s life – including their work.”

Addiction costs UK employers around £6.4 billion in lost productivity through absenteeism, unemployment and premature death. That equates to over £115 million in Hertfordshire. In general, employers take seriously their corporate social responsibility to look after the health and wellbeing of their workforce. However, there remains a tendency to view substance misuse or alcoholism as a disciplinary issue, with employers looking for reasons to terminate employment rather than exploring avenues to help the employee. “The fact is that addiction does not discriminate – anyone can be affected. If you work in a medium to large sized company, you will almost certainly employ someone who has an addiction,” explains Adrienne. “You may think that person is a ‘functioning’ alcoholic or drug user, but in reality that person is suffering with an illness that can be treated. If the illness isn’t treated, a cost to your organisation in terms, of absenteeism or accidents, is inevitable.”

The Living Room provides treatment to people who suffer with any addiction from its centres in Stevenage, St Albans and Watford. Clients attend the group counselling sessions in the day time (the service is non-residential) so that they live their lives as normal when they are not in treatment. According to Adrienne, this gives people a better chance of long term abstinence from their addiction. “Often we see clients who have attended residential rehabilitation courses over long periods and who then struggle to deal with the realities of life on the outside. When someone is working, we find the best chances of success happen when they are given some time off to focus on their recovery, while at the same time maintaining some contact with work.”

Over the past year, The Living Room has delivered talks to employers in Hertfordshire on addiction in the workplace and how to spot it. By gaining a better understanding of the issue, employers are more likely to handle cases in a sensitive and effective manner to the long term benefit of the business and the individual. As Adrienne says, “It is essential for organisations to put in place positive and effective addiction-management policies. The answer is to support the employee and not to punish them.”

Members of the Chamber of Commerce interested in an Addiction in the Workplace talk can contact The Living Room via their website, www.livingroomherts.org, or by calling them directly on 0300 365 0304.

Treatment takes the form of group counselling at centres in Stevenage, St Albans and Watford.