Drug & Alcohol Rehab for Truck Drivers

3 min read · 5 sections
Truck drivers live solitary lives—miles upon miles of endless roads, days turning into nights, just them and their massive vehicles. To fight boredom, fatigue, and loneliness, some truck drivers turn to drugs and alcohol to keep going. Not too many people would connect professional truck drivers with a substance use disorder, the medical term for addiction, but it is one that industry and government regulators struggle to control.
What you will learn:
Statistics of truck drivers that abuse drugs and alcohol.
Stigmas and cultural challenges truck drivers face and can overcome.

Life on the Road

Semi truck driving on an empty road.The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) specifies limits—such as not permitting drivers to drive more than 11 hours a day or 70 hours in an 8-day period.1 According to the Employee Development Department in California, employers pay truck drivers by the mile, a number that can vary depending on the type of cargo. Earnings tend to increase with seniority, miles driven, and the size and type of truck.2 Seasoned drivers typically cover 3,000 or more miles per week.3 That’s about 430 miles per day (over a 7-day period) alone in a cab, sometimes in unfavorable weather and traffic conditions.

Despite rules on how many miles a driver can log and mandated breaks after the 60- or 70-hour mark (depending on the number of days), the truck-driving life takes a toll on an individual’s well-being.1 A solitary existence on the road, a lack of restful sleep, a diet that consists of roadside fare, and little exercise puts stress on the mind and body.

Studies suggest that long-haul truck drivers may be at a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms.4 In fact, one study found that 44% of long-haul truck drivers reported symptoms of depression in the past 12 months.4 Risk factors include severe work-related stress, the use of psychiatric medications, and broken sleep.4 Additionally, some individuals use alcohol and other substances to cope with symptoms of depression.5

Truck Drivers and Substance Misuse

Limited research indicates that substance misuse may be a problem for some truck drivers. In an analysis of self-reported studies, truck drivers reported using alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, and cocaine.6 One recent analysis of data found that 27.6% of truck-driving respondents consumed drugs. Of these, 21.3% consumed amphetamines and 2.2% consumed cocaine.7 Findings suggest that truck drivers use stimulant substances to increase their productivity—staying awake for more hours to put more miles behind them. However, chronic and high-dose use of these stimulants impact driving skills that put the drivers and others on the road at risk of injury or death.7

The Impacts of Alcohol and Drug Use Among Truck Drivers

Alcohol consumption among truck drivers can seriously impact their health, their work, and general road safety. A recent analysis of several studies found that 19% of truck drivers in the study reported binge drinking.8 The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as having 5 or more drinks for a man in a short period of time and 4 or more drinks for a woman in the same period.9 Additionally, 9.4% of the truck drivers participated in everyday drinking.8

The prevalence of alcohol and other drug use among truck drivers can impair their cognitive functioning and behaviors, which can impact the manner in which they drive—causing them to drive faster or make poor decisions about road conditions, for instance. Binge drinking once a month increases the risk of being involved in a car crash tenfold.8

In 2020, there were 4,965 fatal car crashes involving large trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or more.10  Statistics show that 72% of those deaths were occupants in small trucks or vehicles, and 3% of those accidents involved an alcohol-impaired truck driver.10

Drug Testing Truck Drivers

The FMCSA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) require those with commercial licenses—who drive vehicles greater than 26,000 pounds—to submit to drug and alcohol testing. Regulations require testing for 5 classes of drugs, including:11

  • Marijuana.
  • Cocaine.
  • Opioids.
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamines.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP).

Drug testing takes place prior to employment; after an accident that involved a fatality, an injury, or disabled a vehicle; at random (50% of drivers must be tested each year); when there is reasonable suspicion of drug or alcohol use; to return to duty after testing positive for a controlled substance; and during the follow-up period after a positive test.11

The DOT only accepts urine samples as valid drug testing specimens; however, some companies test hair samples—which can show signs of drug use for 90 days—as a prerequisite to employment.11

Getting Addiction Treatment

Truck driver behind the wheel.

Most carrier companies offer their drivers health insurance, which, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, can help cover at least part of the cost of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

Additionally, employers must provide their employees with a list of Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs). A SAP evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol regulation—failing a drug test, for instance—and makes recommendations regarding education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare for the individual.12

The return-to-duty process, mandated by federal regulations, includes successfully completing the education, counseling, and treatment prescribed by the SAP and providing a negative drug test.13

Furthermore, employers or unions may provide additional resources for truck drivers, including:13

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). Though not required under the DOT, many employers and/or unions provide EAPs, which vary widely. Some focus on substance misuse and referrals for treatment. Others can assist with a broader range of topics such as family and financial problems.

Voluntary Referral Programs. Referral programs provide an opportunity to for employees to self-report their drug or alcohol use prior to failing a drug test and receive the evaluation and treatment they need.

Peer Reporting Programs. Programs of this nature encourage peers to identify co-workers with substance use disorders.

Education and Training Programs. A requirement of all agencies that fall under the DOT, these programs focus on education and training and may cover topics that include the effects of drug and alcohol use, company testing policies, DOT testing regulations and consequences, and more.

If you or a co-worker struggle with substance misuse, check with your employer and/or union representative to see what programs might be available to you. A workplace program might exist to help you and/or your family members with substance misuse, mental health, and other problems that can affect job performance. One of these programs might help you take the first step in getting treatment and starting a journey to recovery and a life free from drugs and alcohol.

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