During the annual Bridgerland Society of Human Resources Management Conference, a group of HR specialists studied how to reduce addiction among employees.

The group gathered at Bridgerland Technical College on Thursday was addressed by BluNuvos and CARE Initiative Founder James Hadlock as he explained how addiction affects the workplace and how it can be addressed.

“It’s costing us so much money to be silent and to try to ignore it,” Hadlock said. “Here are the facts we can no longer ignore it.”

According to Hadlock, one in four employed adults struggles with addiction. He said these addictions affect the effectiveness of those employees and even though many companies offer assistance programs, less than 3% of employees use them.

Hadlock, who has personally dealt with addiction in the past, said the zero-tolerance drug policies many companies have implemented can be counterproductive because employees will not willingly go to a human resources specialist to talk about their struggles if they have a fear of being fired.

“They wait and they cross their fingers and hope that they never get tested,” Hadlock said. “They hope they’re never found out. They live in fear.”

One of the main reasons drug addiction is a silent problem in the workforce, according to Hadlock, is the message of hopelessness and fear that surrounds drug addiction in society.

“Hopelessness is perpetuated in the ads. It’s perpetuated in our schools. It’s perpetuated in the media,” Hadlock said. “I am here to tell you there is a different message out there.”

Hadlock gave three steps to help the employees struggling with addiction gain trust to talk about, face and overcome addiction.

He said employers have to acknowledge that addiction exists in the workplace, they must provide a confidential third-party support system where employees can feel safe, and they have to start a conversation.

“You got to have the conversation often,” Hadlock said. “You’ve got to change that narrative that this is no longer hopelessness.”

Hadlock encouraged the audience to remove the stigma surrounding addiction and provide an environment where employees feel safe.

Applicant Pro CEO Ryan Kohler said he agreed that the way to address the issue was not to ignore it but to acknowledge it.

“The solution isn’t a treatment program. The solution is that people talk about it,” Kohler said. “The solution isn’t to go somewhere, then come back to be alone. The solution is some kind of support where we can talk about this stuff at work.”