Workplace Risk Factors For Substance Abuse and Addiction

road workers on a project

Edited on October 7th, 2020

Did you know your job could be putting you at risk of developing a substance abuse disorder or exacerbating a current addiction? Studies have found that the prevalence of substance abuse is higher among individuals who work in certain industries. While any job can be stressful at times, it seems that a select few tend to drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope.

What Are the Negative Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace?

Many people are high-functioning alcoholics or drug abusers. This means they can maintain a job, pay the bills, have a family, and complete day-to-day responsibilities while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Although this may seem to work for a time, it almost always spirals out of control and the negative effects of substance abuse in the workplace become very clear. These typically include:1

  • Loss of productivity
  • Workplace accidents and injuries
  • Missed work
  • Increased illness
  • Low morale

All of these effects impact a company’s productivity and profitability and sooner or later, a coworker or supervisor is bound to take notice and ask that you either improve your performance or take your leave.

What Industries and Jobs Are Most Likely to Contribute to Substance Abuse Problems?

According to the 2015 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) Report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals in the following industries and professions are most likely to live with substance abuse of some kind.


Interestingly enough, although healthcare professionals are probably more aware of the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse than most, individuals who work in this industry are also more likely than others to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves. SAMHSA reported that 6.4 percent of full-time healthcare and social assistance professionals ages 18-64 have a substance use disorder.1 But why? One study cited self-medication as a major reason they abuse prescription drugs, although recreational use was also a common reason as well.2


According to SAMHSA, 14.3 percent of full-time employees in the mining industry ages 18-64 have a substance use disorder.1 The 2015 federal survey shows that miners have a strong tendency to abuse alcohol instead of drugs, which may be related to harsh working conditions and long hours. Substance use of any kind is particularly dangerous in an industry such as mining, where machinery is operated daily.


The construction industry has one of the highest rates of substance abuse, costing construction companies billions of dollars in losses every year.3 Not surprisingly, labor and employment laws regarding substance abuse can be sparse in this industry and they also vary greatly from state to state. SAMHSA reported that a whopping 17.3 percent of workers in the construction industry are abusing substances1, and the stressful, dangerous, and labor-intensive work could play a role in that.

Accommodations and Food Service

The food service industry may be just as bad as the construction industry when it comes to the number of full-time employees suffering from substance abuse. An astounding 17.4 percent of full-time food service workers are abusing substances, including those working in hotels, restaurants, bars, and other lodging and food service locations.

Arts, Entertainment and Recreation

Individuals in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry may be musicians, casino workers, celebrities, or celebrity managers. Thirteen percent of professionals in this industry abuse substances1, which may be a result of environments that frequently encourage drug and alcohol use or increased access to illicit substances.


Lawyers face a large amount of stress daily, which may be one of the causes of the high prevalence of alcohol abuse within this profession. According to a study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 20.6 percent of a sample of 12,825 attorneys displayed evidence of mental health distress and severe alcohol abuse and/or dependence.4 A study conducted by the American Bar Association also found that lawyers struggled with anxiety, depression, and alcohol abuse more often than individuals in other professions.5

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    What Other Employment Factors Can Contribute to Addiction?

    Certain factors may put professionals in certain industries at higher risk for developing substance abuse disorders and addiction. Such factors include:

    • High-stress situations – On-the-job stress is a particularly powerful factor in the development of substance abuse disorders. Individuals that face frequent, stressful situations at work include lawyers, doctors, news reporters, and police officers, among many others. In many cases, drugs and alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism to deal with a high-stress job.
    • Easy access to drugs and alcohol – Some individuals have easier access to illicit or prescription drugs and alcohol, such as law enforcement officers, doctors, nurses, and professional athletes, actors/actresses, or musicians who perform in clubs and bars. Simply having more access to addictive substances puts these individuals at risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.
    • Isolation – Depression is a common issue among individuals who work in solitary environments. Types of jobs in which individuals work long, hard hours on their own are more likely to lead to substance abuse or unhealthy drinking habits.

    Job Protection and Addiction: How to Get Help and Keep Your Job

    Maybe you’ve been working the same job for decades or perhaps you’ve recently started a new one. Regardless, if you’re abusing drugs and alcohol to get by at work or to cope with the stressors of work, you may first want to consider whether you’re in the right industry or not.

    If you are suffering from addiction or a substance use disorder but you cannot risk losing your job or quitting before you have secured a new one, a drug and alcohol detox program may be the best first step to getting your life back on track.

    Despite popular belief, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 76 percent of people with substance abuse problems hold jobs.6 It is very common for those individuals to fear the repercussions of admitting their substance abuse and seeking treatment.

    Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protect you from workplace discrimination so you don’t have to worry about missing work while enrolled in a drug detox program. Additionally, under the legal protection of these acts, your boss will not have grounds to fire or discipline you as a result of missed work once you’re enrolled in treatment.7,8

    A federal law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is also designed to protect the privacy of your medical records. This also includes any attendance at a drug or alcohol detox or rehab program. Under HIPAA, you:

    • Can request that your medical history involving addiction treatment not be shared with your employer.
    • Can rest assured that your personal information won’t be shared without your consent, unless directly related to your healthcare (your employer cannot view it without written permission from you).
    • Will be notified whenever anyone has seen your medical information.

    Do keep in mind that there are some exceptions to these rules. Your personal medical information may only be shared without your consent if they are required for the following reasons: 

    • Court orders
    • Cause of death reporting
    • Criminal investigation
    • Child abuse or neglect reporting
    • Medical emergencies

    If you need to take medical leave to go to rehab, most employers cannot force you to disclose the medical reason for your time off. However, you’ll want to consider your circumstances and closely review your employer’s policies and handbook before you decide how you want to approach management about the situation.

    Many employers also provide a free Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which you can use to receive counseling for drug and alcohol addiction. You cannot be fired for seeking out this help, but if your treatment attendance is a condition of you maintaining your employment and you violate that agreement, you could potentially lose your job.

    Executive Detox: Confidential and Discreet Drug Detox for Working Professionals

    Many professionals suffer from addiction and substance abuse problems but are too afraid to get help due to fears of losing their job, judgment from co-workers, or public ridicule.

    If you have an established career and need discreet addiction treatment, an executive detox program can provide professional detox services that are completely confidential and effective. Executive detox offers detox that is tailored to the needs of working professionals, with amenities that suit a high-end lifestyle.

    Our executive detox program at Briarwood provides additional comforts like a king size bed, a private room, and personalized chef-prepared meals. It also allows for more connectivity and unlimited access to a personal cell phone and computer. This means you can work toward a life of recovery while still maintaining your professional responsibilities and employment status.

    Executive detox also provides individual and group therapy to begin preparing clients for entry into a rehab program. Although executive detox can help professionals overcome their physical addictions, continuing addiction treatment with inpatient or outpatient rehab is an important step in the recovery process. Rehab provides essential life skills and relapse prevention techniques to help professionals cope with stressors in the workplace and at home to effectively sustain long-term sobriety.

    Executive detox programs are a great solution for anyone who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol but who also wants to maintain their professional career or complete treatment with additional discretion. You don’t have to choose between your career and your recovery. With professional and private detox, you can enjoy both.

    If you need help reclaiming your life from addiction, the admissions staff at Briarwood Detox Center is ready to assist you. We provide individualized drug and alcohol detox programs facilitated by a multidisciplinary team to provide you with the best possible opportunity for long-term and even lifelong recovery.

    Please contact our admissions team today at (888) 857-0557 for more information.


    1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1959/ShortReport-1959.pdf
    2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24089039/
    3. http://enewsletters.constructionexec.com/riskmanagement/2016/04/drug-and-alcohol-abuse-the-hidden-toll-on-the-construction-industry/
    4. http://journals.lww.com/journaladdictionmedicine/Fulltext/2016/02000/The_Prevalence_of_Substance_Use_and_Other_Mental.8.asp
    5. https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/02/05/business/dealbook/high-rate-of-problem-drinking-reported-among-lawyers.html?referer=
    6. https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA08-4350/SMA08-4350.pdf
    7. https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm
    8. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

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