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Is Your Profession More Likely to Struggle With Drug Abuse?

Studies have shown that a staggering number of working professionals struggle with drug and alcohol addiction in the United States. Illicit drug use, heavy alcohol consumption, and substance use disorder plague the American workforce across all industries, in both blue and white collar professions. Substance abuse can rear its ugly head in any job, but are certain professions more at risk that others?

At, we have a vested interest in the treatment of drug addiction, so we wanted to take a look at the specifics of drug abuse in various professional industries. In part, what we found, according to the recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), is that the drug abuse data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that there are complex issues underlying the correlations between drug and alcohol abuse and employment type. 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.

Illicit Drug Use By Industry

When it comes to workers using illicit drugs, accommodations and food services has the highest use of any industry at just over 18%, more than four times the lowest industry, public administration at 4.11%. Arts, entertainment, and recreation and construction are the second and third highest using industries, respectively, at around 13%. All three of those tend to be more blue collar jobs. Interestingly, management and information (~11.4%) are fourth and fifth, respectively. Those are more while collar jobs and contrast significantly with the first three industries. This shows that illicit drug use can be prevalent throughout the workforce.

Heavy Drinking By Industry

Substance use Disorder By Industry

For heavy drinking and substance use disorder, the mining, construction, and hospitality (accommodations and food services) industries consistently rank the highest in terms of percent of drug and alcohol abuse within their respective fields.

Conversely, education, public Administration, and health/social services consistently rank on the lower end of the spectrum. Perhaps the implication is that these careers are more personally fulfilling given their community-oriented natures. Another possibility is that their positions are inherently subject to greater public scrutiny and drug testing.

These findings as well as the aggregated data above may not be particularly surprising or perhaps unexpected, as many of the industries with the highest rates of reported substance use are typically extremely physically demanding and stressful. However, when the data is broken down further and carefully investigated in even greater detail, more revealing insights may be discovered. For example, the chart below demonstrates that marijuana use specifically is notably high across all industries. This suggests that marijuana abuse is not necessarily limited to or associated with specific types of employment, but rather has a much wider effect (averaging 52.44% across all industries) on the U.S. workforce.

Marijuana Use By Industry

Similarly, deeper insights may be gathered from a closer examination of the effects of heroin and opioid abuse. While not as high as cannabis, heroin usage averages 1.81% across all studied industries.

Heroin Use By Industry

Perhaps the most disturbing insight from the data collected in the NSDUH is the notably high percentages of American workers who have admitted to ever using pain relievers, such as opioids, for nonmedical purposes. This is especially concerning because pain relievers are more readily available and easier to obtain than illicit drugs. Given their intended medical purpose, there is perhaps less of a stigma surrounding pain relievers and thus less of a fundamental societal suspicion or distrust. When averaged, nonmedical pain reliever use amounts to approximately 13.54% of all surveyed employees across all industries.

Pain Reliever Abuse By Industry

Notably, the construction industry maintained the highest percentages of drug abuse within all three drug-specific categories: marijuana use (60.33%), heroin use (4.42%), and nonmedical pain reliever use (22.63%). In relation, the entertainment/recreation and information/communications industries consistently rank second and third behind construction.

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.

The next steps would be to recognize the patterns and then formulate a plan to make a change. If your industry is more prone to drug and alcohol abuse, recognize the causes of stress and try to adopt healthier coping mechanisms. For example, taking a daily walk or run, taking time to do a relaxing activity, or even seeking a support group can all be healthy alternatives to substance abuse and are all focused on the same goal – improving your health and career.

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