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Commission-Only Jobs and Increased Risk of Substance Abuse

2 min read · 4 sections

Stress Among Commission-Based Workers

When you work in commission-only jobs, you truly must earn your money. Although this type of sales provides higher overall opportunity (such as being paid higher commissions than jobs with a base salary), this job does not come with the same type of economic security. Nothing is guaranteed, and until you complete a sale you are not paid. The problem with this is that most salespeople do not close a deal every day or even every week. This is especially true for those who sell high priced items such as mortgages, houses, and cars. When you work in a commission-based position, the money you bring home can greatly fluctuate from month-to-month.

A job paying only commission has other downsides in addition to the lack of regular, dependable income. Although you are provided more freedom than jobs with a base salary, you must continually work to develop the self-discipline needed to follow through with work activities. You are also likely to be more responsible for out-of-pocket financial expenses, such as travel and mileage, than someone who works for a base salary.

Substance Abuse and Stress

It is very unnerving to lack a secure, rhythmic income when you work in sales, and the anxiety caused by this line of thought makes it more difficult to sell successfully, which can cause a vicious cycle of failure. This creates an immense amount of stress in these workers. There is a strong connection between stress and substance abuse, and this is especially true for people working jobs that pay pure commissions only.1 To deal with stress, many commission-only workers will attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, a mistake that can easily spiral into substance abuse and addiction.

Addiction Among Workers in Commission-Based Jobs

Statistics show that substance abuse is an issue for commission-based workers. A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration examined substance abuse within various industries, including real estate, an industry largely comprised of commission-only workers. Findings from this study pertaining to the real estate industry include:2

  • 9% of workers reported heavy alcohol consumption during the past month
  • 11% of workers reported using illicit drugs during the past month
  • 10% were diagnosed with a substance use disorder

Another report details the toll of the opioid epidemic as it relates to specific occupations, including sales, where a large portion of these workers are paid commission-only. According to the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, from 2007-2012 there were 3,413 drug overdose deaths among people working in sales (with overdoses accounting for more than 1 in 100 deaths of these workers). This total includes 405 deaths from heroin and 1,515 from prescription opioids.3

Treatment Options

If you need to have a drink or use drugs to get through issues stemming from irregular pay and the constant pressure to make sales, you may have reached a level of work-related stress that is potentially dangerous. Smoking, drinking, and using drugs are not proper coping mechanisms for stress faced by commission-only workers. Instead, these forms of self-medication will only cause further harm to your body and mind. Substance abuse puts a tremendous strain on personal relationships, and if not properly treated you risk breaking up your marriage, family, and friendships.

If you are someone who has developed an alcohol or drug addiction because of work-related stress or pressure, help is available. An addiction does not have to control or destroy your life.


  1. Sinha, R. (2008). Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1141(1), 105-130.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2015). Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry.
  3. Harduar Morano, L., Steege, A.L., & Luckhaupt, S.E. (2018). Occupational Patterns in Unintentional and Undetermined Drug-Involved and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths-United States, 2007-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(33), 925-930.
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