Blue-collar workers suffer from high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Many blue-collar jobs are physically demanding and involve intense manual labor that can lead to work-related injuries.
Consequently, blue-collar workers may turn to drugs and alcohol for coping with stress and pain. Some may develop a dependence on pain medications that have been originally prescribed by a doctor. Addiction among blue-collar workers is a serious problem that can lead to accidents, termination of employment, and health problems.
Substance Abuse Among Blue-Collar Workers
A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration used survey data to compare substance abuse patterns across various industry sectors in the United States. Some of the study findings pertaining to blue-collar workers include:1
Workers in the mining industry
- 17.5% report heavy alcohol use (the highest rate among all industries)
- 1 in 20 report illicit drug use in past month
- 1 in 8 report drug or alcohol dependence during the past year
- 1% report an opioid use disorder2
Workers in the construction industry
- 16.5% report heavy alcohol use
- 1 in 9 report illicit drug use in past month
- 1 in 7 report drug or alcohol dependence during the past year
- 1.3% report an opioid use disorder (nearly twice the national average)2
Workers in the manufacturing industry
- 1 in 10 report heavy alcohol use
- 1 in 13 report illicit drug use in past month
- 1 in 11 report drug or alcohol dependence during the past year
Workers in the food services industry
- 11.8% report heavy alcohol use
- 1 in 5 report illicit drug use in past month (the highest rate among all industries)
- 1 in 6 report drug or alcohol dependence during the past year (the highest rate among all industries)
Factors that Lead to Substance Abuse in Blue-Collar Workers
The abuse of alcohol and drugs is a significant problem among blue-collar workers, with various industries differing in the preferred substances of abuse. Among all industries, the food service industry is perhaps the most affected by substance abuse and addiction.
Food service workers are the most at risk for illicit drug use and substance use disorders and the third most at risk for heavy alcohol use.1 Substance abuse among workers in the food industry can be attributed to several factors, including:3-4
- High-stress environment.
- Relatively young age of workers.
- Low pay.
- Irregular schedules including late‐night shifts.
- Lack of worker surveillance by management.
- Work culture norms (end‐of‐shift drinks, after-work parties).
- Availability of alcohol in the workplace.
- Peer pressure from coworkers.
Drug abuse is also a major issue among the construction industry. Everyday physical wear combined with extremely high rates of injuries and falls result in construction workers having to constantly deal with pain.5 Workers are often prescribed opioids to provide comfort and pain relief, with one study showing 73% of injured construction workers have been prescribed a narcotic painkiller.6
Not surprisingly, many workers in the construction industry have become dependent on these highly addictive drugs. The rate of pain medication and opioid misuse in construction is among the highest of any industry in the United States.
Alcohol abuse is a major concern among workers in the mining industry. The rate of alcohol use within the mining industry is higher than any other industry and more than double the rate among all full-time workers in the United States.1
Mining is an extremely stressful job, and many workers may turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with this stress. Mining is grueling work and many workers abuse opioids in an attempt to deal with pain. Some of the characteristics of mining jobs that influence substance abuse among workers include:7
- Physically demanding work.
- Heavy workloads.
- High stress.
- Extremely hazardous conditions.
- High incidence of work-related injuries.
- Male-dominated industry.
- Rostering work arrangement.
- Isolation from society.
- Separation from loved ones.
- Boredom (during free time out of mines).
- Lack of entertainment options at dormitory facilities.
- Peer pressure from coworkers.
The impact of drug use on the workforce is being felt across the country, and perhaps nowhere more than among blue-collar workers. Unfortunately, the problems of drug abuse and addiction extend beyond those currently in the workforce.
Job loss and periods of unemployment are common among blue-collar workers and can lead to financial difficulties, depression, and low self-worth; consequences that can further push some people to drink or use drugs.
Many blue-collar job openings remain unfilled due to a lack of sober applicants, an issue that can be attributed to an increased prevalence of marijuana use and the current opioid epidemic. One owner of a machining and fabrication company in Ohio recently reported that 4 out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists, and crane operators will fail a routine drug test.8
Employers have become increasingly more aware of substance abuse problems among blue-collar workers. Many workplaces have developed strategies to prevent drug abuse and obtain help for those who need it.
Blue-collar workers struggling to adhere to drug-free workplace policies should utilize the employee assistance program (EAP), a voluntary and confidential service that provides assessments, counseling, and referrals for professional substance abuse treatment.9
If you are a blue-collar worker struggling with addiction, it is important to know that help is available. Depending on the substance and severity of abuse, your treatment needs can range from outpatient therapy to a residential program with medical detox.
Please contact an addiction specialist today to discuss which options will work best for addressing your specific needs.
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- Bush, D.M., & Lipari, R.N. (2015). Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry.
- National Safety Council. (2017). A Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employer.
- Zhu, J., Tews, M., Stafford, K., & George, R.T. (2011). Alcohol and illicit substance use in the food service industry: Assessing self‐selection and job‐related risk factors. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 35(1), 45‐63.
- Duke, M.R., Ames, G.M., Moore, R.S., & Cunradi, C.B. (2013). Divergent Drinking Patterns of Restaurant Workers: The Influence of Social Networks and Job Position. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 28(1), 30-45.
- Laborers’ International Union of North America. (2018). Number of Worker Deaths in Construction Continues to Rise.
- The Plain Dealer. (2017). Ohio construction workers seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose in 2016.
- Roche, A.M., Lee, N.K., Battams, S., Fischer, J.A., Cameron, J., & McEntee, A. (2015). Alcohol use among workers in male-dominated industries: A systematic review of risk factors. Safety Science, 78, 124-141.
- The New York Times. (2017). Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll.
- Normand J, Lempert RO, O’Brien CP, editors. Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Work Force. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994.