Substance misuse can impact anyone, and certain populations may be at an increased risk for developing a substance use disorder.
Flight attendants have unique work responsibilities and lifestyles that may influence their substance use. Their ever-changing work schedules, multiple work locations, safety-related duties, requirement to serve alcohol, environment, and overall lifestyle can impact substance use, recovery, and relapse.1 Fortunately, there are programs designed specifically for flight attendants who are seeking treatment for substance use disorders or alcohol use disorders, the medical term for alcohol addiction.
Statistics on Substance Misuse in Flight Attendants
While research on substance misuse among flight attendants is somewhat limited, studies suggest that flight attendants experience psychological health stressors that can impact their behavior and overall health. A study conducted among female flight attendants showed that flight attendants perceive themselves as having poor mental health due to several factors including:2
- Isolation when they travel.
- An inability to adequately fulfill other roles such as partner, mother, and member of the community due to lack of time and energy when at home.
- A lack of support on the job.
- The duty of dealing with difficult passengers.
The limited research on flight attendants and substance misuse includes the following statistics:2-4
- A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) examined causes of death among over 11,000 flight attendants and found that deaths related to alcohol addiction were 2.5 times higher among flight attendants than in the general population.
- Another study found that among 1,955 former and current flight attendants surveyed, 10.8% reported using or having used alcohol to relieve stress and sadness.
- Additionally, another study found that maintenance personnel and flight attendants accounted for 78% of all alcohol violations—found during random alcohol testing—during 7-year period surveyed.
Causes and Risk Factors of Addiction in Flight Attendants
Not everyone who drinks alcohol or takes prescription medications becomes addicted. However, there are risk factors that may impact a flight attendant’s susceptibility to substance use and addiction. Flight attendants are at an increased risk of developing physical and mental health disorders such as:6
- Sleep disorders.
Studies have consistently demonstrated that developing mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression can increase a person’s risk of developing substance use disorders.7 That’s because substances are often used as a way to cope with the symptoms of mental illness.7 Risk factors specific to flight attendants that increase their risk of psychological distress and mental health challenges include:2,6
- Low job satisfaction.
- Sexual harassment from colleagues and passengers.
- Verbal harassment from passengers.
- Family tension related to childcare.
- Irregular sleep patterns and a disruption of circadian rhythm.
- Exposure to potentially hazardous circumstances such as cosmic radiation, elevated ozone levels, and poor cabin air quality.
- The physical demands of the job.
Additional factors that are not specific to flight attendants, but can increase their risk of developing a substance use disorder include:8
- Using drugs and alcohol at a young age.
- Genetic vulnerability and family history of substance use disorders.
- Easy access to drugs and alcohol in the immediate environment.
- Normalization of drugs and alcohol in the community.
- Family conflict, neglect, or abuse.
- Family management problems.
Consequences of Addiction in Flight Attendants
Here, a look at how addiction typically affects workers, including flight attendants:1,2,9
- More than 1 in 5 individuals with employer-provided health insurance fear that seeking treatment will cause them problems at work.
- In the transportation industry, 8.2% of workers have experienced serious problems in their life because of their alcohol use.
- One mortality study of Italian flight attendants found that female flight attendants were at an increased risk of death by suicide as compared to the general population.
- Drug and alcohol use can increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that can impact job performance.
- Drug and alcohol use can also increase the risk of physical and medical health complications, which can impact the ability to perform work duties.
- A job suspension might be made to force a worker to seek and complete inpatient or outpatient substance misuse treatment before being allowed to return to safety-sensitive work duties.
Substance Misuse Treatment for Flight Attendants
An evidence-based treatment program for drug and alcohol misuse can help support an individual’s long-term recovery. Programs exist specifically for flight attendants with substance misuse issues.
Flight attendants experience unique challenges because of their profession, including their work schedules, work environment, lifestyle, and requirement to serve alcohol, among others.1 Substance misuse treatment facilities vary in the services and interventions they provide. Choosing a treatment facility that understands the unique needs of flight attendants and how their experiences impact their recovery is crucial in selecting an effective treatment program.1
Research shows that:1
- Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction that is modified to each person’s unique needs is as effective as a treatment for other manageable diseases like diabetes and asthma.
- Early identification and intervention among flight attendants, who misuse substances, can positively influence recovery outcomes, costs, and public safety.
- Treatment works, and it can help a flight attendant stop using drugs and alcohol, prevent relapse, and live a happy life in recovery.
Treatment is not the same for every person and needs to be tailored to suit you and your specific needs. There are a variety of treatment options, including:
- Detox. During detox, your withdrawal symptoms are managed by medical professionals so that your body rids itself of the substance safely and as comfortably as possible. It is important to understand that detox itself is not substance misuse treatment, but it is often the first step in the journey to recovery.1
- Inpatient rehab. Residential or inpatient treatment offers 24-hour care and medical supervision, 7 days a week. Services—rendered and monitored under the supervision of medical and mental health professionals—are structured and may include individual and group counseling, medications, and other substance misuse therapies to help you understand the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that led to the addiction and teach the skills necessary to cope.1
- Outpatient treatment. In outpatient treatment, services look similar to those offered in inpatient programs. The intensity of the outpatient program depends on your individual needs and the program you’ve selected. It may range from you coming to the facility for an hour a day to spending entire days at the center then returning home or to a sober living house to sleep.1
- Aftercare and recovery housing. Ongoing programing, counseling, and mutual-help groups help support individuals in their long-term recovery. Additionally, recovery housing can provide support for people, who completed a treatment program, in their long-term recovery goals.10
Flight attendants don’t usually have a typical 9-to-5 work schedule, which can make it difficult to be able to attend treatment and maintain employment simultaneously.1 This, and other factors, need to be taken into consideration when creating a comprehensive treatment plan.
At Greenhouse Treatment Center, an American Addiction Centers (AAC) facility, we understand the unique needs of various professionals and offer a program tailored to licensed professionals. While flight attendants may not be a licensed profession, the licensed professional track addresses occupational challenges and recovery goals for those who work in environments with stressors.