How Work Stress Can Lead to a Substance Abuse Problem


Unless you’re a part of the fortunate minority of the world’s workforce who lives to work or are immune to work stress, regular employment represents a major source of anxiety and it can’t always be left at the office at the end of the day. Even if you love your job, it’s bound to stress you out at some point. Given the time requirements of most full-time positions, people will always look for ways to relieve the stress applied by the seemingly constant demands of regular employment. Many will find healthy outlets such as exercise, hobbies or spending time with friends and family, but others will take the path of least resistance, relying on alcohol or drugs to temporarily blow off steam and potentially incur severe, long-term health risks down the road.

Drugs at or After Work

When alcohol or drug consumption becomes the default response to work stress, it sets a dangerous precedent. Whether an individual uses cocaine or prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin to help them focus or uses alcohol or prescription opioids to help them unwind at the end of the day, using a substance as a crutch is a cause for concern. People’s relationships with substances will vary based on their work environment and personal preferences but the outcome remains the same.

Picture of a man sitting down against a tree. Substance use is invariably habit-forming, and depending on the substance, can lead anywhere from a crippling need to a debilitating addiction. As with any coping mechanism, the individual will find that his or her ability to deal with stress without resorting to substance use is greatly reduced, leaving him or her between a rock and a hard place. Using substances at work can lead to an even greater amount of issues:[1]

• Absenteeism: The natural progression of drinking or doing drugs at work leads to doing the same at home so why even come into work when personal, sick and vacation days are available to you?

• Increased healthcare costs: Myriad negative health effects are inherent to alcohol or drug abuse, and if your employees have health insurance through their employment, your rates will inevitably rise.

• Injuries/deaths: Being drunk or high at work is far from conducive to maintaining safe work practices. In certain industries, this can lead to accidents and increased workers’ compensation costs, which don’t just affect the offending individual(s) but their sober co-workers as well.

• Legal liabilities: Substance use at work can lead to costly mistakes with clients and possibly to legal repercussions.

• Lost productivity: Whether the cause is hangovers from the previous night or employees getting drunk or high during work hours, job responsibilities take on a lower priority in the event of substance use.

• Low employee morale: When workers can’t depend on each other because certain employees are depending on alcohol or drugs instead, the displaced stress can fall on the shoulders of others, significantly affecting morale.

• Theft: One of the key effects of any substance is reduced inhibitions. That may be all it takes to turn wanting an item at the workplace into attempting to take it home.

Certain industries are particularly suited for alcohol or drug abuse. For instance, some jobs in the banking and financial industry are associated with systemic cocaine and amphetamine abuse simply as a means to survive the grueling hours.[2] Other industries such as food service, construction and other blue-collar fields are linked with alcohol abuse.[3] Using substances to cope with work-related stress temporarily addresses the problem but opens the individual to a wide variety of other issues.

Unintended Consequences of Work Stress and Substance Abuse

The repeated use of any habit-forming substance, in addition to potentially leading to an addiction, can cause significant, negative health effects differing based on which substance is being abused. Any alcohol or drug use will dull your ability to make good decisions, your coordination, and will make things that are important, like completing your work assignments in a timely manner and maintaining a good working relationship with your co-workers, seem less so. Some statistics about the fallout of alcohol and drug usage in the workplace are:[1]

  • Pie chart showing that nearly a quarter of employees surveyed reported drinking at work at least once in the last year. Employees that abuse alcohol are 2.7 times more likely to miss work due to an injury caused by drinking
  • Alcohol is involved in 16 percent of emergency room visits caused by a work injury
  • 11 percent of the victims of deaths at the workplace had been drinking at the time
  • 24 percent of employees reported that they drank during the workday at least once in the last year
  • About 20 percent of employees across a wide variety of industries said that a co-worker’s drinking either at work or at home had put their own safety or productivity in danger
  • People that have had three or more jobs in the past five years are approximately twice as likely to have used drugs in the previous two years than those who have only held two or fewer jobs
  • Out of the estimated 14.8 million people who use illicit substances, 70 percent of them are employed

Avoiding substances, particularly at the workplace, can often be as easy as making the decision to take care of your body and mind. There are plenty of healthy ways to reduce work stress such as running, lifting, yoga, meditation or spending time with friends or loved ones. Everyone has a passion or two and once you determine what yours are, it can become a renewable source of happiness entirely distinct from using substances. If you or someone you know is using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress from work, Unity Behavioral Health can help. We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic North Palm Beach, FL, specializing in drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness and dual diagnosis. Get in touch when you’re ready to learn more.

[1] https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/addiction-update/drugs-and-alcohol-in-the-workplace
[2] http://news.efinancialcareers.com/us-en/214585/the-30-something-bankers-are-not-alright/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655771/