03/12/2012 12:15 GMT | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Can Bosses Help Addicts?

Rehab isn't taken seriously in Britain. It's not taken seriously by the NHS, by HR professionals or by the general public. It may get a mention in the pub if Amy Winehouse's name comes up, but the general assumption seems to be that rehab is too expensive for ordinary people and only the rich and famous can afford it.

Everyone has heard of "detox", as the word is now used on face creams and fruit juices, and there is a vague association in people's minds that detox is rehab. I wonder how many people know that detox is simply the first stage of residential addiction treatment.

GPs don't seem to take rehab seriously either, which isn't surprising considering that addiction is barely mentioned in medical school and many GPs don't even know that it's a disease. The NHS may think it saves money by not referring alcoholics into residential rehab (where success rates are relatively high) but the Home Secretary recently said that the real cost of alcohol abuse is in the region of £21 billion a year.

The one area where there is some hope and where ordinary people can have an impact is at work. Our bosses, managers and supervisors are (one hopes) more able to deliver than politicians (whose promises of reforming the drug treatment problem have come to nothing). What manager wouldn't like to improve the health and productivity of his team, cut down on sick days and avoid costly dismissals?

If company managers are looking for ways to increase efficiency, not to mention health and safety, they should look at the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on their workforce. The International Labour Organisation estimates that, globally, 3-5% of the average work force are alcohol dependent, and up to 25% drink heavily enough to be at risk of dependence. Considering what a boozy nation we are, the figures in British companies are probably higher.

I recently interviewed Dr Mike McCann MD, an occupational health physician based in London. He gave me some useful insights into how organisations can start to deal with drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.

The first thing that companies should do , says Dr McCann, is a risk assessment. "A good starting point," he says, "would be to look at the number of sickness absences and accidents. If you can identify a significant problem - and work out how to improve efficiency by addressing it - then people will buy into it as an issue."

Dr McCann recently published a book called Alcohol, Drugs & Employment. He told me it is a "unique reference book for HR professionals, managers, employment lawyers and occupational health professionals. The book describes policies for identifying, controlling and treating substance abuse at work."

Hopefully I will get my hands on a copy of this book. I am currently working on a new website which advises companies about addiction issues, and this is exactly what I -- and HR managers across the land -- need to read.