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GRANITE FALLS — Alcohol or drug dependency can change someone's personality, cause financial issues and sever personal relationships. It can also have a negative impact on a person's work performance — and cause employers thousands of dollars in lost productivity each year.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 18 million people in the United States have an alcohol use disorder, including both abuse and dependency. The NIAAA estimates that excessive drinking costs businesses more than $81.2 billion annually in impaired productivity.

Based in Granite Falls, the nonprofit organization Project Turnabout works directly with businesses and employers to help them recognize the signs of chemical dependency and to educate them about helping employees find the treatment they need.

"Alcohol and drug abuse is here. It's in the workplace now," said Mike Schiks, executive director and CEO of Project Turnabout. "Now, what we can do is talk to companies about this and help them understand."

Chemical dependency can affect anyone, anywhere, Schiks said. Although there's a perception that people from lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a crutch, the data simply doesn't support that.

"We see people from all walks of life come here," Schiks said. "These people are our neighbors, our friends. We is us."

Project Turnabout offers both short- and long-term inpatient therapy for men and women at its Granite Falls facility. Outpatient treatment programs are available at sites in Granite Falls, Willmar, Redwood Falls and Marshall. The organization also offers transitional living and continuing care programs.

In 2012, Project Turnabout had more than 1,200 people enroll in its chemical dependency addiction treatment program, which includes both inpatient and outpatient therapy. Many of these people were employed and "very valuable to their companies," Schiks said.

"Employers are running into these issues all the time," he said. "These issues are not going away or getting any less serious."

On average, a mid-level worker with a good skillset can take three to four months to replace, and even an entry level worker can be difficult to come by these days. For many companies, it's more cost-efficient to help an employee find treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, rather than let them go and replace them, according to Schiks.

"You can't always afford to be continuously training folks," Schiks said. "The cost of advertising, recruiting and even training can be significant. It really becomes an issue of retention."

In a recent week, Project Turnabout received calls from two Willmar-area businesses about education for their management staff on working with individuals who need help, said Mark Sannerud, director of development, marketing and outreach for Project Turnabout.

"That's pretty typical," Sannerud said. "These businesses knew that they couldn't afford to recruit and replace those workers. When we talk about the cost of getting someone help, that seems more appealing to many businesses."

Some companies, usually larger ones, have employee assistance programs available for these situations, or an HR manager who can act as a mediator. For smaller employers without those options, having a relationship with an organization such as Project Turnabout can be beneficial, said Caroline Chan, outreach associate at Project Turnabout.

"We're a really good fit for many of them," she said. "Our goal is to customize for each business and try to be a resource for them."

Many employers who contact Project Turnabout are worried about the legal implications of approaching someone with a concern about chemical dependency, Sannerud said.

"People are nervous to bring these issues up," he said. "They don't know what to do and they need some education."

If the situation escalates to a point where an employer feels they should intervene, keep the conversation focused on the employee's work performance, Chan advises.

"Talk about how they're doing," she said. "Ask them about their sick time, tardiness, accidents on the job, errors or personal appearance. Anything that is observable."

While it's the job performance that causes problems at a business, Schiks said that many employers also genuinely care about their employees and want them to find the help they need.

"I'm an optimist. I believe that most of the time, businesses care about their employees," Schiks said. "They also know that they're successful because of their employees."

Either way, Schiks and the team at Project Turnabout want businesses to be aware of the issue so they can begin taking steps to address it.

"This isn't just happening on a rare occasion," Schiks said. "It's happening, whether to an employee or to one of their family members. And it's affecting the workplace. I don't necessarily want people to think we're screaming fire, but we do have a bit of a fire."

September is National Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month, which promotes the benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for people with substance abuse disorders.

To recognize Recovery Month, Project Turnabout will be hosting events at both its Willmar and Granite Falls offices throughout September.

Project Turnabout will also hold an alumni reunion and picnic for anyone who has gone through treatment in the past. That event will be held Sept. 14 at its Granite Falls campus.

For more information about these events, visit

The Twins game on Sept. 10 will also celebrate Recovery Month, and the third annual Walk for Recovery will take place on Sept. 21 in Minneapolis.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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