Restaurant Workers and Addiction – Statistics, Recovery & Treatment Options
The American Restaurant Industry
The American restaurant industry is one of the largest private‐sector employers. There are currently over 15 million workers in the restaurant industry, representing 10% of the entire U.S. workforce.1 Due to the unique nature of this fast-paced industry, many workers are prone to heavy workloads, long work days, few meal breaks, and late-night shifts. These are all things that contribute to job-related stress in restaurants, which is a fact of life for those in the foodservice industry. This can be concerning, as any issues affecting restaurant workers affects our entire society, given the large number of Americans employed by this industry.
Substance Abuse Within the Restaurant Industry
In a study looking at substance use within various industries, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found the restaurant industry to be the most at risk for illicit drug use and substance use disorders and the third most at risk for heavy alcohol use.2 Addiction rates in restaurant workers include:
- 11.8% of food services workers reported binge drinking during the last month
- 19.1% of food services workers report using illicit drugs during the last month
- 17% of food services workers have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder
High levels of employee drug use and alcohol consumption in the restaurant industry can be attributed to several factors, including:3-4
- High-stress environment
- A relatively young labor pool
- Low wages
- Irregular work schedules including late‐night shifts
- Low management surveillance
- Work culture norms (end‐of‐shift drinks, going out after work)
- Alcohol availability in the workplace
- Peer pressure from coworkers
Substance abuse is not confined to any specific type of restaurant, and can be seen in workers of fast food, casual, and fine dining restaurants. A recent study examined substance use in Michelin-starred kitchen staff throughout Britain and Ireland, finding that alcohol and drugs are commonly used as a means of self-medication and as a coping strategy for most chefs regardless of their ranking. While alcohol is primarily used to unwind after a grueling work day and to cope with harsh working environments, drugs and other substances are mainly used to maintain or improve performance.5
There is clear data showing that substance abuse is a major issue among restaurant workers. Unfortunately, there are several circumstances impeding these workers from receiving the necessary treatment to address their problem. One such thing is the lack of health insurance provided to restaurant workers, with estimates showing only 14% of workers receive any form of benefits from their employer.6
Another area that needs improvement is the support offered to workers by employers. A recent study incorporating interviews with restaurant employees found that substance abuse prevention measures were either non-existent or never seen enforced at their places of employment.7 It is estimated that less than ¼ of companies in the food service industry offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), the workplace-based program designed to address substance abuse among employees.8 This is unfortunate because workers in this industry have a need for these life-changing services, but for the most part largely cannot access them.
If you work in the restaurant industry and are struggling with the idea of seeking professional treatment for addiction, it is important to know that help is out there. Depending on the substance and severity of abuse, your needs can range from outpatient therapy to residential treatment with medical detox. Please contact an addiction specialist to discuss what options will work best for treating your condition. Making this choice today will not only save your career, it may ultimately also save your life.
- National Restaurant Association. (2019). National Statistics.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry.
- 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.
- Giousmpasogloua, C., Brown, L., & Cooper, J. (2018). Alcohol and other drug use in Michelin-starred kitchen brigades. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 70, 59-65.
- Economic Policy Institute. (2014). Low Wages and Few Benefits Mean Many Restaurant Workers Can’t Make Ends Meet.
- Kitterlin, M., Moll, L, & Moreno, G. (2015). Foodservice employee substance abuse: is anyone getting the message? International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 27(5), 810-826.
- Doman, A. (2017). Identifying factors to increase utilization of employee assistance programs for substance abuse in the food service industry.