The Danger of Substance Abuse at the Work Place and America’s Top Industries for Addiction

Businessman drinking at work.

We’ve likely all heard more than once the story of the growing prevalence of drug and alcohol addiction in America. This is a problem that started becoming more severe around the turn of the century and which has doubled, tripled and even quadrupled itself since then. In the span of just under two decades, the United States became all but overwhelmed with addiction and drug crises. Substance abuse has permeated our home life, schools, colleges, professional spheres, entire industries, churches, communities, etc.

If you understand the rudimentary basics behind addiction, you’ll know that this is a problem that affects every aspect and facet of a person’s life. No addict is an addict part-time. No drug user can turn off drug use for a period of time and go without. No alcoholic merely walks away from alcohol whenever they feel like it. That’s not what having an addiction is all about.

As an addiction spreads through a person’s life, it is going to affect his ability to work, to hold a job, and to expand on his career. People often lose their jobs because of substance abuse troubles, creating a level of instability in addicts lives that simply adds to their unpleasant condition. Furthermore, people who use drugs and alcohol create dire risks and dangers for themselves and others when they consume substances and then go to work. And last but not least, certain industries seem to attract drug addicts and alcoholics more than others.

Threats of Harm, Injury, and Death – A Culture of Danger Thanks to Addiction in the Workplace

Worker in warehouse unconscious.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. has researched the true implications of drug abuse and alcohol misuse in the workplace. In the words of the NCADD, Alcohol and drug use among employees and their family members can be an expensive problem for business and industry, with issues ranging from lost productivity, absenteeism, injuries, fatalities, theft and low employee morale, to an increase in health care, legal liabilities and workers’ compensation costs.”What does this do to the company, the individual, the team, the safety of the other employees, and the job culture?” Great idea! I’ll do it.The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has published the following findings:

  • Employees who have alcohol abuse issues are almost three times as likely to have an injury-related absence from work as employees who don’t have drinking problems. On that same note, hospital emergency rooms report that thirty-five percent of patients who come into the ER with a work-related injury were also individuals who struggled with a drinking problem.
  • There is this common notion that drug users and alcoholics don’t have jobs. This is actually not true. In fact, about seventy percent of drug addicts and alcoholics are able to hold down jobs, if only to support their habit.
  • On a more serious side, on the rare occasion that employees die on the job site, about eleven percent of them test positive for alcohol consumption as having been fairly recent to the time of death.
  • Statistically speaking, it is very difficult for individuals with drug problems to hold down jobs. Workers who have had three or more jobs in the last half decade are about twice as likely to be current drug users as those who have had two or fewer jobs in that same time span.
  • Alcohol consumption, sadly, is very common in the workforce. Twenty-four percent of employees drink alcohol while on the clock at least once a year. And twenty percent of employees and their managers alike indicate that alcohol consumption is a jeopardizing factor to both workplace safety and production.

Clearly, when people misuse and abuse substances at work, they bring about all sorts of harm and danger with them.

The Top Industries in the U.S. for Substance Abuse

According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, about nine percent of full-time workers use alcohol heavily, and about eight percent use drugs regularly. Eight to nine percent might be the national average, but some industries have substance abuse prevalence far in excess of that.

  • According to the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, the two industries that have the highest frequencies of alcohol misuse are the mining industry, at seventeen percent, and the construction industry, at sixteen percent.
  • For drug use, the two, top industries for drug misuse among employees are accommodations (hotels, motels, resorts, etc.), averaged with the food service industry. Nineteen percent of employees in both industries combined use drugs.

Certain factors of these workplaces might make them attractive to drug users and alcoholics.


The mining industry is a hard one consisting of long hours, painful work, high risk of injury, poor compensation, high risk of internal health problems, poor work culture, etc. The mining industry has come up in news media multiple times as being “one of the most painful jobs in America.” After a long day in the mines, most miners want to relax and ease some pain, not to mention get some social engagement with their friends and other co-workers. And what better way to do all of that than with alcohol?


The construction industry presents much of the same traits that the mining industry carries. The construction industry might not be as physically brutal as the mining industry is, but the construction industry has less job security than mining does. The pains and hardships of working long hours in construction and experiencing all of that physical abuse to one’s body, coupled with a lack of good job security makes construction seem somewhat unpleasant. This can drive even the strongest men and women to drink.

Woman hotel worker taking drugs.


The job culture in accommodations, hospitality, hotels, motels, resorts, also seems to attract substance abuse among their workers. Working in accommodations often involves long hours of working in the middle of the night, which is attractive to drug users as it can be a way to be high on drugs at work long after top-tier management has gone home for the day.

Food Service

The food service industry is also particularly likely to attract substance abusers. This industry is attractive to people with drug problems because restaurants and bars rarely perform background checks on their new hires. Furthermore, this is a highly cash-based industry, allowing addicts to get paid immediately for work done that day and then use that cash to go acquire drugs shortly after their shift.

Help Addicts Get Off of Drugs and Alcohol; Help Businesses and the Economy Flourish

The harder we work to address our country’s drug problem, the better off businesses and workplaces will be. And we need to work harder in this area, too, because workforce drug use is increasing. According to Quest Diagnostics, more workers are using cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine than had been previously documented.

“Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce…”

According to Dr. Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics: “This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations. Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce.”

We all need to start working a little bit harder to make sure that drug use does not creep into our own workplaces. This will be in the addict or alcoholic’s best interests, and it will be so for the company and for the other employees as well.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.