Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) service! Doesn’t Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) already cover that? Here’s what you need to know about the difference.

An Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) is most often an important part of an employer’s benefits package in the form of paid counselling. It is usually voluntary on the part of the employee and is a short-term, confidential service for employees and eligible family members with personal problems that are affecting the employee’s performance at work. Historically EFAPs started as workplace alcoholism programs in the 1940’s and have evolved to promote employee wellness and mental health. The intention of these programs is to help with the resolution of difficulties that may be affecting the workplace. Such problems may not have stemmed from the workplace and can cover a wide range of issues. Today, most EFAPs offer short-term, brief counselling and are sources to refer people to other funded, professional agencies who can offer more extended and comprehensive care.

EFAP programs can be accessed confidentially or as a suggested resource by the employer to support employees.  The EFAP services today are mostly tendered to national or even international organizations who use brief, phone assessment to identify the presenting problem. The assessor may work through some crisis management tips and then assign this client, your employees, to telephone or in-person counsellors who provide short-term counselling and are familiar with community resources such as social, financial and mental health services, ministers and other professional counsellors. 

Examples of common EFAP service areas are job stress, child or elder care, parenting difficulties, separation/divorce, crisis counselling, financial and legal matters, domestic violence, harassment and substance misuse. Some EFAP services also include wellness/health promotion and fitness programs. 

A Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) service is also a external service. A SAP is used only when there is concerns around substance misuse where the employer needs specific information gained from a professional assessment and recommendations. It is, for the most part, mandated by the employer as a part of maintaining employment. For example, when a safety sensitive employee is found unfit for duty or is involved with a positive alcohol/drug screen for whatever reason (accident, near miss, reasonable suspicion, self-disclosure), a SAP is the trusted professional of choice. 

The SAP’s role is to complete an in-depth assessment to determine the employee’s substance use, and whether it is a case of misuse or substance use disorder (SUD). Based on the findings of the assessment, the SAP will make recommendations which could include specific education, more intensive treatment, as well as a return-to-work (RTW) plan and aftercare recommendations.  SAPs also provide education regarding substances, misuse and abuse in the workplace and development of alcohol/drug policy. Think of the SAP as a specialist, specific to substances of abuse with exclusive interests in creating a culture of safety whereas an EFAP is a more general, short-term counselling and referral service. 

An EFAP program, as part of their service agreement, can and does refer to SAP services for a substance assessment, alcohol/drug policy revision, employee education regarding substances of abuse as well as supervisor training regarding impairment, reasonable suspicion and fit for duty processes. However, most often the EFAP will employ Social Workers and/or psychologist who state they “do” addictions counselling as part of their overall practise; few are specifically addictions trained and fewer yet hold the Substance Abuse Professional designation that is a legislation-protected designation in the US. 

Evidence has proven the dollar-for-dollar benefits of quality EFAP services. There is no doubt about that. Unfortunately, over time, these EFAP services have moved further away from dealing with substance misuse. Evidence also shows that professionals (SAPs) specifically trained in treating substance use disorders are more capable to breaking through the denial that is so often a major part of SUD and identify the depth of the disorder. This serves to assist the employee, and protect the interests of the employer, co-workers and the public at large. One of the keys is matching the right service for each individual situation.

Researched evidence indicates that at least 15% of any given North American population has issues with substance misuse and that only about 1% of people who struggle with SUD ever get help for this issue.  Knowing this, it is as important for organizations to have a strong alcohol/drug policy and provide the right service at the right time which creates engaged and motivated employees to support a healthier, happier, safer workplace for all.

Daniel Hearn, Addiction Cert., Junior Consultant 


Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety, (2020). OSH Answer fact sheet, employee assistance programs (EAP). Retrieved from,

Hearn, D. (2020). What is a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)? Retrieved from, is a SAP?