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Construction Workers & Addiction: Statistics, Recovery & Treatment

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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.

Construction is a Physically Demanding Job

A job in construction is very challenging, both physically and mentally. Many in the construction industry resort to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or to self-medicate physical pain. Some of the reasons that construction workers turn to substances include:

  • Long work days
  • Physical pain and injury
  • Stress
  • Work-related disability
  • Mental illness

Substance Abuse Among Construction Workers

Employees of the construction industry, mostly blue-collar workers, have nearly twice the rate of substance abuse as the national average. Around 15% of all construction workers in the United States have a substance abuse disorder compared to 8.6% of the general population of adults, according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Other statistics from this study pertaining to construction workers include:1-2

  • 12% have an alcohol use disorder compared to 7.5% nationally
  • 16.5% of construction workers reported heavy alcohol consumption within the past month, nearly twice the average of all full-time workers surveyed
  • 11.6% of construction workers reported illicit drug use within the past month
  • 14.3% of construction workers were diagnosed with a substance use disorder in the past year, more than 1 ½ times the average of all full-time workers surveyed
  • 2.3% have a marijuana use disorder

The construction industry has been particularly affected by the opioid epidemic, and workers in this field are among the most susceptible to opioid abuse. About 1.3% of construction workers have an opioid use disorder, almost twice the national average according to a report from the National Safety Council.2

It doesn’t help that so many in construction are prescribed opioids to deal with their pain. Almost 3 out of 4 injured construction workers were prescribed a narcotic pain killer in 2016.3 Opioids account for 20% of the total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry, a higher amount than any other industry according to a report by CNA Financial.4

The rampant opioid abuse and addiction within the construction industry is associated with an increased risk of overdose and death. In fact, construction workers have the highest mortality rates for drug overdose deaths and prescription opioid–related overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.5 Some other recent findings include:

  • Construction workers are 7 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than workers in other industries 3
  • Construction workers have the highest proportion of heroin-related overdose deaths 5
  • Construction workers represent about 25% of fatal opioid overdoses among all workers 6

Recovery and Treatment Options for Construction Workers

Addiction is a major health issue for anyone, but there are additional risks for construction workers. Construction jobs always requires your full attention, and anything that impairs your concentration is a risk. Being under the influence of substances or experiencing withdrawal symptoms while at the jobsite increases the risk of making mistakes, which can be deadly to both yourself and your coworkers.

Construction companies should regularly drug test their employees, as this is required by federal law. If you test positive for drugs or alcohol, treatment options should be offered to you. However, you should not wait for a positive drug test to address any issues with substance abuse. If you work in construction and are battling addiction, please seek professional help immediately before you put any lives in danger.

Construction workers addicted to opioids should first undergo medical detox at a facility staffed with doctors and nurses trained in opioid addiction. Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and clonidine are often given to help ease withdrawal symptoms during the detox process. Once detox is complete, it is recommended to transition into a residential treatment center. Addiction specialists will use tools like behavioral therapy to better understand the causes of addiction and teach sober living skills for the best chance of successful long-term recovery.

Sources

  1. Bush, D.M., & Lipari, R.N. (2015). Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry.
  2. National Safety Council. (2017). A Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employer.
  3. The Plain Dealer. (2017). Ohio construction workers seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose in 2016.
  4. CNA Financial Corporation. (2015). 2015 Construction Risk Outlook, Prescription Opioid Abuse: Risk Factors and Solutions.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Occupational Patterns in Unintentional and Undetermined Drug-Involved and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths-United States, 2007-2012.
  6. Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (2018). Opioid-related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation, 2011-2015.
Last Updated on July 12, 2021
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
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