We’ve all heard the jokes: “This job is driving me to drink,” or “After that meeting, I need a three-martini lunch.” And there’s really no question anymore that the majority of U.S. employees are dealing with an often punishing workload: An August 2014 Gallup poll found that the average American now works 47 hours per week — nearly a full workday longer than a so-called “regular” work week.
But even given all that, is it really likely that certain jobs push someone toward drug and alcohol abuse?
According to a new survey released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol and drug dependency rates are higher in certain professions – and it’s not because so-called “addictive personalities” are more attracted to these types of jobs. “There’s no such thing as an ‘addictive personality’; 60 years of research has failed to show differences in the personality styles … between people who have alcohol and drug problems and people who don’t,” says Gary Rose, PhD, a member of the core faculty at William James College in Newton, Massachusetts, and an adjunct professor at Brown University Medical School, in Providence, Rhode Island. “You can’t talk about addictive personalities being attracted to certain professions,” he says definitively.
You can, however, talk about risk factors — especially age and gender. For example, studies show higher rates of alcohol and drug use, regardless of profession, among young males, peaking around ages 25 to 28, says Dr. Rose, so if an industry — say, construction or mining — is dominated by young and/or male workers, it makes sense to see more substance abuse among people who work in those jobs.
Job norms — such as workplaces that are more tolerant of drug use, or simply easier access to substances — play an especially key role in addiction rates, says Rose. “Think about jobs as small social environments and communities,” he says. “Jobs where there is a lot of drinking and drugging [often] have to do with the norms – what’s accepted, what’s tolerated, what people can get away with . . . [so] greater access.”
Risky Places of Business
So which jobs made SAMSHA’s list of those with the highest rates of addiction? The survey, which combed through data from 2008 to 2012, found that the highest rates of substance use disorder (SUD) were, perhaps not surprisingly, among waiters and bartenders and those in the hotel industry (16.9%); followed by construction workers (14.3%); individuals in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry (12.9%); and miners (11.8%).
On the flip side, workers in education — a profession dominated by women — had the lowest rates of drinking and drug use compared to the other industries that were included in the survey. Authors Donna M. Bush, PhD, and Rachel N. Lipari, PhD, found that an annual average of 8.7% of full-time U.S. workers ages 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the previous month, 8.6% used illicit drugs in the same time period and 9.5% were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year, they wrote.
Here’s the full list of the top 10 and bottom nine from the SAMSHA survey:
Top 10 Industries That Raise Your Risk of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
(Rates of past-year SUD among full-time adult workers, 2008 to 2012)
- Accommodations and food services: 16.9% of workers (also the highest rate of illicit drug use, with 19.1% of workers having used in the previous month, and the highest rates of past-year SUD)
- Construction: 14.3% (second only to miners in heavy alcohol use, at 16.5%)
- Arts, entertainment and recreation: 12.9%
- Mining: 11.8% (miners had the highest rate of heavy alcohol use in the previous month, 17.5%)
- Utilities: 11.5%
- Management: 11.4%
- Retail trade: 10.5%
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting: 10.5%
- Wholesale trade: 10.4%
- Other services (except public administration): 10.1%
Five Industries with Lower Rates of SUD
Rates of past-year SUD among full-time adult workers (2008 to 2012):
- Educational services: 5.5%
- Health care and social assistance: 5.7%
- Public administration: 7.2%
- Professional, scientific and technical services: 8.8%
- Transportation and warehousing: 9.1%
If you or someone you care about is in recovery and job-hunting, the message is this: While no one ought to choose, say, teaching or pass up their dream career because it topped the worst-jobs-for-addiction list, you can choose your work environment carefully – and stick with sober people while on the job, says Rose. “Even within the high-risk job situations, [it’s important to] understand and avoid your triggers to use drugs and alcohol,” he says, adding that there are some industries that hold AA meetings specific to that field.