Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Professionals

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Professionals

When the average person thinks about drug addiction, what sort of image comes to mind? Many people are prone to consider people who are dejected, out of work, and perhaps living on the street. And while it’s true that many unsheltered individuals often struggle with addiction, the reality is that many professionals have their own battle with addiction.

Whether they are business owners, CEOs, actors, writers, chefs, or any other professional, all people are just as likely to struggle with addiction. This article explores some of the struggles faced by professionals and how they might want to manage an addiction.

Jobs With the Highest Rates of Addiction

According to statistics, some jobs are more likely to be associated with addiction than others. These jobs have the highest rates of addiction.

Restaurant & Hospitality

If you have ever worked in a commercial kitchen, then you are probably already aware of the high rates of addiction among people working in the hospitality industry. Hospitality work, especially in a kitchen, is frequently highly stressful and underpaid. Workers are frequently hot, sweaty, high-strung, and required to put out a constant stream of high-quality food for customers.

On top of this, many hospitality workers operate in the background where they do not have to deal with the general public. This allows them a greater opportunity to become intoxicated at work without being exposed. 

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that more than 15% of people working in this industry struggled with some form of substance abuse disorder. On top of this, nearly 20% of people working in this industry reported that they had used illegal drugs in the last month – the highest rate among any of the professions described below.

Medical professionals

Medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and surgeons, have some of the most emotionally demanding and stressful jobs on the planet. This high amount of stress can lead to problems with substance abuse in an effort to mitigate these difficult emotions.

Between 10 and 15% of healthcare workers are known to use substances. Furthermore, doctors are much more likely to abuse prescription drugs than people who do not have access to these medications. The same may be true of hospital workers and nurses who have access to large supplies of prescription medications.

The arts and entertainment industry

There is a long-standing association between creative work and substance abuse. Many of the artists who have produced some of the world’s most famous music were known to be drug addicts and alcoholics.

Professionals who work in the art industry are more likely to have a schedule that allows for more free time. This can be an enabling factor that allows them to participate in substance abuse.

Legal workers

One study evaluated more than 13,000 lawyers in the United States. According to the study, one in every five lawyers has a problem with drinking. Compared to other professions that require a similar level of education, this is near twice the average.

In the legal field, substance abuse problems are more common among younger lawyers when compared to those who have been in the field for more than a decade. These young, aspiring lawyers are often faced with stress and high expectations – either placed on themselves or by others in the field. 

Construction and trades workers

Construction trade workers are also known to have fairly high rates of addiction. Nearly 15% of people who are employed as construction workers struggle with some form of addiction.

In recent years, more and more construction workers have become dependent on opioids. One of the reasons for this is because construction workers must consistently do manual labor. This can lead to chronic muscle soreness and serious injuries, which opioids can help to mitigate. 

When a construction worker uses opioids, they will be able to work through the pain and provide greater output. 


Management is a blanket term that describes people who manage the positions of other people in an employment area. Supervisors and CEOs are more likely to struggle with addiction than some of the employees that they look after.

It can be very difficult to look after, supervise, and try to organize the activities of large groups of people. This becomes even more challenging when your financial security is related to your ability to manage these individuals. As such, people in management positions often struggle with high levels of stress that can lead to addiction.

Sales workers

Another class of employees who are known to struggle with addiction problems are sales professionals. Sales workers often deal with high levels of stress and pressure, mostly because their payment is related to how well they can sell products. If they are not on the ball all the time, they will lose money.

Some sales workers may be prone to using prescription medications or illicit drugs in an attempt to remain energized and capable at all moments during their shift. The more conversationally effective they are, the more likely they are to make sales. As such, the incentive to abuse substances in order to become a more effective salesman is a factor that must be considered.

Furthermore, sales positions are highly social jobs that involve communicating with people constantly throughout the day. People who tend towards introversion may find this a challenging job to fulfill and may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to become more sociable.

Police officers

Despite being charged with maintaining public order, police officers are also known to struggle with addiction problems. One of the most obvious reasons for this is because they are faced with high levels of stress on a daily basis.

Many police officers may be exposed to a violent or disturbing situation which could lead to trauma. Police officers are regularly exposed to domestic violence, shootings, bloody crime scenes, and deadly car accidents. Many of these situations may endanger the lives of the officers themselves.

One of the most common responses to a traumatic situation is substance use. In fact, between 7-19% of police officers struggle with PTSD. This can be reflected in the fact that nearly a quarter of police officers struggle with substance abuse problems.

Police officers who work in busy city centers may also be prone to extremely difficult shifts. Their shifts may rotate and they are often forced to work long hours and overtime. The combination of fatigue and overworking may encourage police officers to rely on substances in order to provide them with the energy that they need to fulfill their daily tasks, either at home or on the job.


According to research, firefighters are among the most likely professionals to struggle with binge drinking and alcoholism.

Firefighters also deal with a very stressful and potentially dangerous situation on a regular basis. Firefighters report that they are often faced with nightmares, insomnia, and even mental health disorders that result from the things that they experience while they’re on the job.

The frequent stress and trauma that firefighters are exposed to may make them more likely to engage in drinking or drug use. Nearly half of all male firefighters engage in regular binge drinking, according to one study.

Firefighters are also more likely to struggle with injuries than some other professions. First responders often receive opioid medication to help them manage the pain of injuries. While these prescriptions may be provided in order to assist them with their pain, many firefighters end up addicted to these drugs afterwards.

The military

While people who are actively engaged in military service may not be likely to use drugs, largely because of the extensive frequency of drug testing given to people in the service, they are more likely to engage in drinking than the average individual.

On top of this, veterans who return from the war are more likely to return home with mental health disorders such as PTSD. Many of these veterans develop drinking disorders. This is especially true for veterans of older generations who were raised in a society that was less supportive of men exploring their emotional health.

Signs of Addiction Among Professionals

If you are working with someone and are unsure whether or not they are struggling with an addiction, it can be useful to understand some of the signs and symptoms of addiction among professionals.

These are some of the most common symptoms that people with an addiction may demonstrate.

  • Frequently changing jobs or being unable to hold a job for a steady length of time

  • Preferring to attend night shifts or shifts where there is less supervision by superiors.

  • Regularly falling asleep on the job, in between shifts, or during break time

  • Becoming irrationally or abnormally anxious when asked to attend an overtime shift that has not been previously scheduled

  • Frequent bathroom breaks, unexplained absences, and changes of behavior, social ability, or mood throughout the day

  • Frequently wearing sunglasses, even indoors, chewing gum, or using breath mints

  • Frequent changes in their eyes, including glossy eyes or extremely small pupils
  • Frequently fluctuating between hyper-social or manic to antisocial and lethargic

  • Frequently coming into work sick, lethargic, or fatigued – occasionally with sudden shifts into higher energy levels or sociability after a short break.

Dangers of Addiction In the Workplace

There are many reasons that addiction is not an ideal situation for a worker to be in. This is especially true for people who are in charge of the health of others, such as doctors or nurses. Here are some examples regarding the dangers of addiction.

Accidents and Injuries

People who attend work under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be more likely to injure themselves or others. This is also true of people who attempt to attend work while they are experiencing withdrawal from substances.

Both withdrawal and active intoxication can impair judgment, hand-eye coordination, and communication skills. These can all make someone more likely to get hurt. 

In the case of medical professionals, this also increases the chances of injuring a patient or botching a surgery. It’s vitally important that healthcare workers are in a consistent state of sobriety and good focus.

Impaired job performance

Not only do people put themselves and others at risk when they go to work intoxicated or in withdrawal, they are more likely to impair the performance of their job. People may be unable to fulfill their duties if they are struggling with withdrawal symptoms, and they may show an unpredictable pattern of high-productivity and low-productivity as they fluctuate between alternating periods of being high and struggling with withdrawal.

People may also spend their time and energy preoccupied with thoughts of substance abuse during work. If an individual is highly focused on the moment that they’ll be  able to leave work and use their drugs, then they won’t be as focused on their work.

Missed work

One of the biggest issues faced by addicted workers is the increased likelihood of missing work. 

Alcoholics, for example, may miss work due to an extreme hangover. People who struggle with addiction to opiates may be unable to attend work due to withdrawal symptoms, or they may use too much and miss work after nodding out.

Legal ramifications

Addiction can also lead to a number of legal problems that can adversely affect the work environment. These may include:

  • The risk of an employee being detained or incarcerated due to drug-related behavior. This not only increases the risk of them missing work but may reflect badly on their place of employment.

  • The risk of an employee selling illicit drugs to other members of the team.

  • The increased likelihood of an employee pilfering goods from work in order to sell or trade for drugs. 

Difficulties quitting

One of the biggest issues that affect people who are working during addiction is the challenge of wanting to quit. In fact, many struggling drug users want to stop using their substance of choice because it might jeopardize their work situation. Ironically, the main thing preventing them from doing that is the fear of losing their job.

When someone is fully invested in an addiction, they cannot simply give it up and return to work the next day feeling great. More likely they will have to go through a lengthy process of withdrawal and possibly even rehab.

Both of these situations can present problems for the employee, especially if their employer is not aware of their situation. Asking for time to attend rehab may jeopardize their position – either by having to admit that they’re using drugs or simply by requesting the amount of time (often a month or more) needed to finish a rehab program.

Some drug users attempt to quit ‘cold-turkey,’ and show up at work in the midst of withdrawal. This can compromise their ability to work and can increase the likelihood of themselves hurting themselves or others. In an effort to maintain their productivity and improve safety, they may rationalize going out to score and returning to work once they have eliminated their withdrawal symptoms.

Managing Addiction & Recovery As a Professional

As discussed in the previous paragraph, it is often difficult and impractical for a working professional to stop using drugs while they’re still employed. The withdrawal period is often difficult enough that it prevents them from being able to function at work. In most cases, they will need to take time off of work.

For some people, it is enough to ask for several days off of work so that they can quit cold-turkey and deal with the most difficult withdrawal symptoms. Some people are able to do this over the weekend and return to work on a Monday after the worst of the withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

However, for others, this is not always enough. Many people are able to quit drugs and deal with the withdrawal symptoms without too much issue. However, they are unprepared for the protracted withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, and cravings that pursue them after they have sobered up.

Rehab treatment for professionals

One of the best ways that they can manage their addiction long-term is to attend some form of rehab program. Professionals who need to seek inpatient rehab will likely face more of a struggle than those who can attend outpatient rehab. We will discuss the differences in each.

Outpatient rehab

For a working professional who is unable to take a significant amount of time off work, outpatient rehab is ideal. Outpatient rehab doesn’t require you to take too much time off of your job. As long as you attend your scheduled meetings, then you will be able to complete the program.

You may be able to schedule your meetings for the weekends or after work. Or you may be able to book time off for your meetings, telling your employer that you need to see your doctor. In either case, this is a much more manageable option, for most, than inpatient rehab.

The difficulty with this form of rehab is that you will not be committed to a facility and thus there is nothing to prevent you from having a relapse. You will have to rely on your willpower and the skills that you learn during rehab to ensure that you stay safe.

On top of that, you will still have to find a way to manage your withdrawal symptoms. You may want to book several days off of work to do this.

Inpatient rehab

Inpatient rehab is a more intensive and comprehensive form of treatment that is useful for people who struggle with serious addictions. Unfortunately for professionals, inpatient rehab requires that you stay at the facility for the duration of your treatment.

Since treatments generally last more than a month, this will require that you take time off of work in order to complete your treatment. This may jeopardize your job and may put other employees who are reliant on you at risk.

However, inpatient rehab is much more likely to lead to success when compared to outpatient rehab. If you are considering seeking treatment for a long-term addiction, it could be worth your while to figure out a way to attend an outpatient program.


Professionals are just as likely – if not more so – to struggle with addictions than everyday people. Unfortunately, it can often be more difficult for professionals to seek treatment when compared to other people.

Various constraints and responsibilities make it more challenging for professionals to attend recovery programs than people who are unemployed. This, compounded with the added stress of work, can lead to some serious risks of addiction.

Fortunately, it is not impossible for professionals to overcome these difficulties. Inpatient and outpatient rehab programs have helped thousands of professionals overcome their addictions. If you think that you could improve your life by participating in a rehab program, don’t hesitate to seek help.

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