The latest estimate of the prevalence of substance use disorder (SUD, or drug addiction), in the U.S. adult population is currently considered to be around 10-12%, according to the most recent data and trends available, and a huge slice of this demographic is currently working – or, at least, still managing to keep hold of their employment status. Interestingly, several recent studies have shown that an individual’s chosen profession, and its environment, can impact heavily on their propensity toward drug abuse and addiction.
So the first question has to surely be: What professions have the highest rates of drug abuse and addiction?
This should quickly be followed by another: Are individuals with drug issues or an actual drug addiction drawn in some way to these professions, or is it because the professions themselves are responsible for increasing the likelihood that an individual will use drugs to the point of becoming dependent and addicted?
The intention of this article is to comprehensively answer those questions, as we look at the 10 business and public service professions with the highest rates of both drug abuse, drug dependence, and diagnosed substance use disorders.
Drug & Alcohol Addiction in the U.S.: The Alarming Statistics
The U.S. remains an addicted nation. More than 20 million people now suffer from the physical, mental, social and economic effects of drug and alcohol abuse, and in many cities across the nation, fatal drug overdoses have never, ever been so high, clearly exacerbated during 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, when it comes to the abuse and addiction of certain drugs, legal or otherwise, we’re the world’s leaders. The U.S. “beats” every other country on the planet in the total amount of cocaine snorted, the amount of marijuana inhaled or consumed, and the amount of tobacco smoked by its residents. Additionally, the levels of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder (AUD, or alcoholism) are not much better.
Apart from the pandemic (in fact, long before it first came to U.S. shores and airports), the nation was dealing with the ongoing opioid epidemic. However, opioid abuse, addiction and opioid-related overdose statistics are now starting to show a rising trend, with around 4.3 million people still using prescription pain medications for non-medical reasons every month.
The U.S. continues to spend around nearly half-trillion dollars every year addressing the huge issue of drug and alcohol abuse – a total that is more than the combined total for treating the chronic diseases of cancer and diabetes.
Lastly, 31% of homeless people abuse either drugs or alcohol or both, around 60% of incarcerated adults are serving hard time for drug-related crimes, and U.S. business employers lose revenue worth millions and millions of dollars every year.
Profession: Another Environmental Addiction Factor
A person’s chosen profession is much more than just a mere job. For some, their profession, their chosen career is a real “calling,” and for others, it’s a way to achieve a financial aspiration. Whatever your primary motivation in working and creating your own career within a particular profession, type of commercial industry or a certain field of public service, rarely do you leave your work where it belongs – in the workplace.
It comes home with you after a long day, it’s in your thoughts as you relax in the evening, and it’s even always close at hand when you and your family spend a weekend away.
Not only does it rarely leave you truly alone, but it may also be physically demanding, or even dangerous, to the point where it can cause you injury and pain. Alternatively, it can be mentally exhausting or emotionally stressful on a daily basis, which, in time, is sure to have a negative impact on your personal health and wellbeing.
For some people, whether they desire it or not, it can even become their life, their reason for living. Regardless, our professions can give away a great deal about who we really are.
“Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Or what about a cowboy, policeman,
Jailer, engine driver, or a pirate chief?” – A. A. Milne, famous English writer, and author of “Now We Are Six” (1927)
Many professions are naturally stressful. As we know, stress is nearly always a clear and mitigating factor in the beginning and continuance of substance use, and it is in relapses during addiction recovery, as people seek to “self-medicate” themselves from its negative effects.
Furthermore, if all professions were equal, there would be no point in an article like this – different professions, when viewed as demographics, would simply have the same level of substance addiction prevalence as the general population.
However, we know that is far from reality – certain professions can create an environment where substance use and abuse is far more likely, and, if other factors are present, too, like genetics or trauma in early family life, an individual’s propensity to the later development of addiction increases dramatically.
Let’s answer the first of the questions posed in this article’s introduction: What professions have the highest rates of drug abuse and addiction?
As we reveal those professions with the highest addiction rates one by one, we’ll answer the second question we posed, by looking at why they create the risks to people’s mental and behavioral health they do where people feel the need to “self-medicate,” and why their environment can act as a catalyst to towards substance use to those who work within them.
10 Professions with the Highest Rates of Substance Abuse
Note: The following statistics, where given, on (i). the rate of substance use disorders, (ii). illicit drug use during the past month, (iii). excessive alcohol consumption, and (iv). other relevant statistics are derived from a wide range of source surveys and studies, and these are listed, where possible, at the end of this article. Furthermore, prescription drug abuse is included in the “illicit drug use” category, and “heavy drinking” or “excessive alcohol consumption” is defined as drinking 5 or more drinks in 1 day during 5 separate occasions in a single month.
1. Professions within the Hospitality & Food Service Industry
Those who work in the hospitality and foodservice industry, such as hotel and restaurant workers and food-service contractors, have the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse and substance use disorders in the entire employment sector.
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that workers in the hospitality and food service industry not only had the highest rate of substance use disorders (16.9%), but additionally, the highest rate of illicit drug use during the past month (19.1%).
Employees in these professions are subjected to a number of risk factors, such as high-stress work environments, low wages, high-turnover positions, and irregular hours. They tend to use suppressants, eg. alcohol and marijuana, to deal with stress, and use stimulants, eg. amphetamines, and cocaine, to stay focused and energetic during long shifts.
In one particular study of young national restaurant chain employees (2009), it was reported that 4 out of every 5 male employees (80%) demonstrated dangerous alcohol use patterns, with 64% of female employees demonstrating similar patterns of alcohol abuse.
2. Doctors and Healthcare Professionals
Doctors and other healthcare professionals, particularly those working within the emergency room (ER) hospital environment, often encounter highly stressful and pressurized situations as a matter of course during their normal working day, as they battle to save the lives of others.
An estimated 10-14% of these healthcare professionals, eg. doctors, nurses, and other frontline staff, have a substance use disorder. Additionally, there are various studies that show both rates of prescription drug abuse and prescription fraud are increasing among doctors.
Unfortunately, that’s not too much of a surprise when you consider their all-powerful need to self-medicate – doctors are actually twice as likely to commit suicide, sadly than the general population. Clearly, the availability and ease of access to potent prescription drugs is a major factor in their substance abuse.
When it comes to alcohol use, this trend continues. A 2012 study of U.S. surgeons published in JAMA Surgery found 15.4% suffered from alcohol use disorder. The rates of those displaying signs of alcoholism were higher among female surgeons (25.6%) than their male colleagues (13.9%).
3. Professionals within the Arts and Entertainment Industry
It seems like not a month goes by without reading about the fatal drug overdose of a well-known musician, actor, or some other kind of celebrity. Creativity and a talent for performing have always appeared to go hand-in-hand with the perils of substance abuse. Unsurprising, then, that professionals working in the arts and entertainment industry show above average rates of drug and alcohol abuse.
Past month survey results for both of these types of substance abuse show rates of 14% for illicit drug use and 11.5% for incidents of excessive alcohol consumption, which, in part, perhaps can be put down to random scheduling and unsocial working hours.
4. Lawyers and Legal Professionals
You would have thought that highly educated and legally responsible lawyers, and other professionals working in the justice system, would be as straight-laced as their work in the courts.
However, an American Bar Association study of 13,000 lawyers in 2016/ found that 20% – a fifth – either suffer from alcohol use disorder, or their drinking is medically considered regularly excessive. That is actually double the rate of other professionals with similar education.
Younger lawyers and legal professionals are more likely to participate in drug use, too, with the highest rates among legal professionals of substance use disorders and mental health issues.
5. The Construction & Mining Industries
Construction: According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 15% of construction workers have substance abuse issues. For example, for the past month’s heavy alcohol use, they reported a rate of 16.5%, the second-highest out of the top 10 industries for substance issues.
During the last few years, it is of little surprise that, within such a labor-intensive, very physical profession as construction, opioid abuse has come to the fore. One study of opioid use data between 2011 and 2015, carried out by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, revealed that people employed in either construction or mining made up over a quarter (26%) of all fatal opioid overdoses in the state.
Mining: The mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry leads all the other industries in past-month heavy alcohol use, and is 4th for past-year substance use disorder rates. However, partly because of extensive drug testing combined with health and safety protocols, past-month illicit drug use rates are actually the 3rd lowest of all the professions and industries described here.
In response to its severe, and the seemingly inherent problem with alcohol misuse, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has developed educational, screening, and incentive programs to deter alcohol abuse by its employees, yet rates of alcohol abuse have increased continually, year-on-year. With their work rostering system, miners usually work for 2-3 weeks solid, and then are given a week’s leave – it is during this leave period that their alcohol consumption can be excessive to the point of being seriously dangerous to their health.
6. Management Professionals
Forgive the exceptionally loose term to describe this next set, but it does specifically look at people in professions where they are actively managing a set of other employees, from a factory floor supervisor to a company CEO. Regardless, management professionals report very high rates of substance abuse.
For example, a 2015 study of drug and alcohol abuse in different industries found 12.1% of management professionals revealed they had used illicit drugs in the past month, and 11.4% actually confirmed they had been diagnosed with a substance use disorder within the past year.
7. Sales Professionals
Sales professionals work under pressure – commissions to make, monthly targets to meet, and completed sales figures and forecasts to work out. Additionally, that pressure is a constant part of their job.
It is possible that these higher demands, and even the thrill and satisfaction of closing a big order, are chased relentlessly by salespeople because they enjoy the floods of adrenaline. Throw in the amount of socializing sales professionals are likely to attend, and you have the perfect background for the emergence of substance abuse.
Sales professionals do work in different industries, so a direct comparison can be difficult; however, as an example, and again according to SAMHSA data and research, 10.9% of people working full-time in real estate, rental, and leasing, and 10.3% of retail sales workers revealed past month illicit drug use.
The prevalence of substance use disorders followed similar lines – 10.5% of retail sales professionals met the criteria during the year prior, with virtually the same results for wholesale sales (10.4%), and real estate (10%).
8. Police Officers & Law Enforcement
Police officers, and others in law enforcement, are often called upon to put their lives on the line on a regular basis, and many work in stressful environments, with anti-social hours and shift patterns, making any decent homelife difficult to maintain. If ever substance use was used to self-medicate, as a coping mechanism to seek respite from the day’s events, many verging on traumatic, then this is the profession where it will be seen.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 U.S. police officers have either moderate alcohol or drug issues, with a high percentage meeting the criteria for substance use disorder. The substance use disorder rate for the general U.S. population is around 10-12%; however, for police officers, it is believed to be between 20-30%.
Another group of first responders who face similar challenges to those confronting the police are firefighters. Regular studies consistently show high rates of alcohol consumption, with binge drinking a particular issue. One significant study highlighted that binge drinking was as high as 60% in professional firefighters, and reports of DUI were around 9%.
First responders, including the fire service, also show high rates of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation (thoughts of suicide). This directly contributes to the levels of substance misuse seen, as a way for these professionals to self-medicate any disorder symptoms.
10. The Military
One group of professionals who certainly put their lives on the line in times of active combat are military personnel – soldiers, pilots, sailors, both men, and women. Although active-duty military personnel undergoes frequent drug testing, they still show higher rates of alcohol use and abuse than the general population.
According to detailed research published in 2015, 12.7% of military veterans had a substance use disorder. Additionally, veterans with a substance use disorder are far more likely to have co-occurring disorders – the coexistence of a SUD with a mental health disorder. In veterans, this tends to be disorders such as PTSD or a depressive disorder.
Whatever Your Profession, Substance Abuse Can & Will Get You Fired
Substance use, abuse, and disorders continue to negatively affect the U.S. industry due to lost productivity, workplace accidents and injuries, low morale among workers, increased illness and health problems, and employee absenteeism. As the above descriptions clearly show, different professions and industries can present different levels of risk to those who may be vulnerable, resulting in a far higher prevalence of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction than that affecting the general population.
In general, U.S. workers when treated as a single demographic, regardless of their actual occupation, show the following annual averages of substance use:
- 8.7% of full-time workers aged 18-64 used alcohol heavily
- 8.6% of full-time workers aged 18-64 used illicit drugs, and
- 9.5% of full-time workers aged 18-64 had s substance use disorder
All of these averages are slightly lower than the comparable averages of all U.S. adults aged 18-64, which shows the majority of employed people working today are far more successful at regulating their drug and alcohol use than those professions detailed above.
SpringBoard Recovery: Drug & Alcohol Outpatient Rehab
If your drug or alcohol use is negatively affecting your family, work, finances, or relationships, or you have trouble controlling how much or how often you’re using or drinking, you’re probably already dependent on those substances and need help. Getting and staying sober is very challenging, but with the right support network to help you when you need it, and the right tools and coping mechanisms to stay sober, it is completely attainable.
We offer a professional, accredited, and successful outpatient rehab program where suing our holistic approach, we will help you to strengthen your mind, body, and spirit with a well-rounded balance of evidence-based treatments, including:
- One-on-one Counseling
- Group Counseling
- Therapeutic Activities
- Nutritional Counseling
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Case Management
Because your rehab program is on an outpatient basis, you are able to maintain your work, school, and family commitments while receiving treatment – perfect for all personal circumstances and situations. Lastly, we are now able to offer treatment via our professional and accredited telehealth service, as and when it’s needed. Contact us today to learn more.
- Bush, Donna M. Ph.D., F-ABFT, and Lipari, Rachel N., Ph.D. “Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder By Industry.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed June 14, 2019.
- Moore, Roland S et al. “Dimensions of problem drinking among young adult restaurant workers.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, September 15, 2009. Accessed June 14, 2019.
- American Bar Association. “Midyear 2018: Panel to examine lawyer substance abuse, mental health and solutions.” February 1, 2018. Accessed June 14, 2019.
- American Society of Safety Professionals. “National Crisis: Opioid Abuse in the Construction Industry.” August 28, 2018. Accessed June 14, 2019.
- Haddock, C.K.; Jahnke, S.A.; Poston, W.S.C.; Jitnarin, N; et al. “Alcohol use among firefighters in the Central United States.” Occupational Medicine, October 12, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2019.
- Pemberton, Michael; Forman-Hoffman, Valerie; Lipari, Rachel; Ashley, Olivia; et al. “Prevalence of Past Year Substance Use and Mental Illness by Veteran Status in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, November 2016. Accessed June 20, 2019.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Veterans’ Primary Substance of Abuse is Alcohol in Treatment Admissions.” November 10, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2019.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “1 in 15 Veterans had a Substance Use Disorder in the Past Year.” May 7, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2019.
- National Institutes of Health. “10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives.” November 18, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2019.