substance abuse by profession

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With over 10% of Americans having been classified with substance abuse disorders, a new study points out the career occupations with the highest likelihood of contributing to illegal drug use.

According to, some professions are more likely to trigger some form of substance abuse than others, and the amount of workers afflicted is “staggering.”, an online provider of drug detox financial information and withdrawal guides, says that its data breakdown suggests there are intricate issues underlying the correlations between substance abuse and employment category.

“When the data is aggregated and organized into the three broader categories of illicit drug use, heavy alcohol consumption, and substance use disorder, there appears to be a recurring pattern in certain industries,” the report states.

That pattern leads to some eye-opening statistics. found:

— 1 in 10 workers have been classified with substance abuse disorders.
— More than half of employees have consumed cannabis.
— Workers in the hospitality industry have the highest rate of illegal drug use.
— Those in public administration have the lowest rate.

Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the report cites certain industries as the most susceptible to workers engaging in substance abuse, as a percentage of the entire occupational economy.

Industry % of workplace drug abuse

Accommodations and Food Services – 18.07%
Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation – 13.32%
Construction – 12.95%
Management – 11.45%
Information – 11.40%

Retail trade, real estate, wholesale trade, manufacturing, and finance and insurance also ranked highly on the list of professions with an overabundance of substance abuse. The following industries ranked highest for alcohol abuse:

Mining – 16.9%
Construction – 18.02%
Arts and Entertainment – 12.23%
Accommodations and Food Service – 12.18%
Wholesale Trade – 11.47%

Utilities, agriculture and forestry, management, manufacturing, and real estate also clocked in as having the highest number of workers who engage in “heavy drinking,” according to the report.

Ironically, while sectors like agriculture and forestry and mining ranked among the highest occupations with heavy drinkers in the workforce, these also rated among the industries with the lowest workforce drug abusers.

Other industries, like public administration, education, and health care ranked among the lowest sectors in both categories, suggesting that career professionals in those occupations are relatively low stress, at least to the point where workers aren’t using serious drugs and aren’t abusing alcohol on a regular basis.

Abuse in any industry

What’s also interesting is that while some so-called “blue-collar” occupations like mining and forestry grapple with a high level of alcohol abuse relative to white-collar industries, drug abuse seems as likely to occur in a brokerage firm as it is at a home construction company.

The study says this:

“The effects of drug and alcohol abuse are widespread and far-reaching throughout the American workforce. Certain industries subject to high stress levels and physically demanding requirements, such as construction and mining, do tend to exhibit higher levels of drug abuse. However, drug and alcohol abuse extends beyond the typically blue-collar industries into the white-collar world as well, especially in regard to marijuana and opioid abuse.”

Industry experts agree, noting that some jobs are just more difficult emotionally than they are physically.

“Perhaps surprisingly, one of the higher risk professional fields for substance abuse or dependency is in the medical field,” says Mark Shandrow, CEO of Asana Recovery, an addiction recovery organization in Orange County, California.

According to the American Nurses Association, 1 in 10 nurses has a substance abuse disorder, Shandrow says. “Likewise, it’s more common among physicians than people may realize.”

The reasons, he says, derive primarily from two triggering afflictions — stress and pain.

“Scenarios like being on their feet for an abundance of hours every day and coping with the emotional strain of caring for very ill people catches up,” he says. “That’s not to mention the very real loss of people who do not recover under their care.”

Complicating the issue in the health care sector is the easy access to addictive prescription drugs. “Due to the relative ease of drug access, as well as the knowledge for self-dosing and self-care, medical professionals can find it easier to slip into a dependency than some other professions,” Shandrow says.

substance abuse by industrysubstance abuse by industry

Workplace culture matters with dependency

Drug use in the workplace occurs the most often where drinking or using is part of the workplace culture, mental health experts say.

“In high-stress work environments, employees are also more likely to drink or use drugs to cope with their discomfort before and after work hours. It can also be a matter of availability,” says Dr. Sal Raichbach, a psychologist at Florida-based Ambrosia Treatment Center.

For example, Raichbach says that medical professionals who work around prescription drugs may be tempted by the opportunity to self-medicate.

“That’s why hospitality is one of the worst industries when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse because alcohol, and sometimes drugs, are readily available in hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations,” he says. “Working for a company that serves alcohol would have a noticeable impact on people who are prone to alcoholism and might contribute to heavy drinking. Hospitality environments focus on relaxation and fun for customers, and drinking and partying can come with the territory.”

Managers can help this situation by having clear guidelines about substance abuse in the workplace and clearly enforcing them, Raichbach says. “It’s also helpful for the employer to offer an employee assistance program that can provide counseling. That way, a staff member who has a drug problem has resources available to help them recover and return to the workforce.”

The more pressure, the higher the risk

Medical professionals say that workers in high-pressure industries like Wall Street or law enforcement, among others, are ripe for substance abuse given their high propensity to stress.
“Drug and alcohol abuse from work is due to having the pressure of having to meet targets and quotas, in the case of sales jobs,” says Nikola Djordjevic, a medical doctor and contributor to the online personal health platform “The stress caused by having to overwork can make employees decide to use drugs and alcohol to make the job more tolerable.”

Even a job where the worker has to engage with the public can lead to substance abuse. “This is the case with jobs that force introverted individuals to be more social,” says Djordjevic. “It’s well known that many people have ‘phone anxiety,’ so call-center jobs, for example, may cause employees to abuse drugs and alcohol if they don’t have an extrovert or ‘type A’ personality.”

Djordjevic’s vote for the occupation that leads to the worst cases of drug and alcohol abuse is Wall Street.

“The worst industry is the finance industry, especially stock and day traders given the pressure they have from investors,” he says. “One wrong move can lead to losing investors, clients and in the worst-case scenario, bankruptcy.”

The sales industry is also one of the worst, especially for those working in call centers and other forms of cold outreach. “The constant denial from potential clients, stress from maintaining quotas and general anxiety that accompanies a sales position can be unhealthy to some individuals,” Djordjevic says.

What can be done to help those impacted on the job by drugs and alcohol?

Human resources managers should meet with problematic employees to decide what is the best course of action, says Djordjevic.

“Instead of firing workers, they should focus on identifying the underlying root of substance abuse,” he says. “Then human resources managers can focus on re-assigning or modifying an employee’s job responsibilities in efforts to remedy the situation.”

Djordjevic continues, “Firing should only be used as a last resort for employees that not only abuse substances, but disrupt the company culture while doing so.”