Find out which ten industries have the highest rates of drug abuse and alcohol abuse.

Your job can play a significant role in your life, even when you’re outside of the workplace. For example, some jobs may be physically demanding or even dangerous and that can cause problems with injuries or pain. Other jobs may be especially mentally or emotionally stressful which can have an impact on your overall well-being.

What happens in the workplace may spill over into family or leisure time, leaving some people struggling to cope with physical or mental stress. This can increase the likelihood of drug or alcohol abuse.

A substance use disorder can lead to lost productivity, higher levels of employee absenteeism, and an increased risk of injuries and accidents at work. Those detrimental effects don’t include the effects of substance abuse on employees outside of the workplace.

Some industries and professions have higher rates of drug abuse and alcohol abuse than others. Here are ten professions with high rates of substance abuse..

Restaurant and Hospitality Workers

People who work in restaurants, food service or hospitality have higher rates of problem drinking and substance abuse than the general population. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that workers in the accommodations or food service industry had not only the highest rates of substance use disorders (16.9%), but also the highest rate of past month illicit drug use (19.1%).

One study that looked at employees of a national restaurant chain found that 80% of surveyed male employees showed dangerous alcohol use patterns and 64% of female employees showed similar patterns. 

Related Topic: How Employers Are Helping – Or Not – Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

Doctors and Health Care Professionals

Doctors and health care professionals have some of the most demanding high-stress jobs in the world. They’re responsible for the lives of others, and sometimes that stress and pressure can take its toll. An estimated 10-14%of health care professionals have a substance use disorder, but there are some studies showing doctors are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than their patients.

There are different reasons doctors and health care professionals may develop substance abuse problems, aside from the stress of their job. The availability and access to prescription drugs is one reason, along with the need for pain management.

A Mayo Clinic study from 2009 found that 50.3% of doctors in a physician health program misused alcohol, and almost 36% misused opioids. A study from 2013 showed doctors abused prescription medications as a way to relieve stress and emotional or physical pain.

Arts and Entertainment Professionals

Creativity and substance use have a long-standing association. Professionals in the arts and entertainment industry, such as actors and musicians, tend to show higher-than-average rates of both drinking and drug use. With nearly 14% reporting past month drug use and 11.5% of reporting heavy drinking, the creative freedom these careers often offer around scheduling and working hours may contribute to the rates and types of substance use these kinds of workers experience.

A 2016 study of more than 13,000 lawyers done by the American Bar Association found that 1 in 5 lawyers are problem drinkers. That’s double the rate of other professionals that have a similar level of education.

Younger lawyers who have been practicing less than ten years tend to show the highest rates of substance abuse and mental health problems. This could be a coping mechanism used to accommodate the expectation that lawyers will be available at all times and growing demands of billable hours.


Around 15% of construction workers may deal with substance abuse. At 16.5%, they reported the second highest rate of past month heavy alcohol use in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Over the past decade, opioid use has become a bigger part. This could stem from the fact that construction workers are more likely to deal with injuries and pain that could lead them to use prescription opioids initially. A study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showed that from 2011 to 2015, people employed in construction or mining made up 26% of all opioid overdose deaths in the state.


Management is a broad term, but generally it’s accepted to mean anyone who manages or supervises other people. That can mean anything from a direct supervisor to a CEO. Management professionals show high levels of substance abuse rates. 

For example, 12.1% of surveyed management professionals said they’d used illegal drugs in the past month and 11.4% reported a substance use disorder within the past year.

Sales Professionals

Sales professionals tend to have high demands placed on them to close deals and they may also be people who like to feel a rush of adrenaline. There tends to be a lot of socializing in sales as well, and all of these may be some factors that lead to higher rates of substance abuse among sales professionals than other positions.

Sales professionals work in different industries, but as an example, according to SAMHSA data and research, 10.9% of people working full time in real estate, rental and leasing and 10.3% of retail sales workers reported past month illicit drug use. Just below that, 7.8% of professionals in the wholesale trade reported illicit drug use in the previous month. 

The same data indicated among adults employed in retail, 10.5% met the criteria for a substance use disorder in the year prior to the survey. That number was 10.4% for people working in wholesale and 10% of people working in real estate and leasing. 

Police Officers

Police and other law enforcement officers grapple with high-stress work environments, emergency scenarios and demanding work hours and schedules that may make family or leisure time difficult. They deal with crisis daily, sometimes at the risk of their own lives. That can lead to substance use as a means to cope or unwind.  

One in four police officers has a problem with alcohol or drugs. While the substance use disorder rate for the general population is around 10%, for police officers, it may be anywhere from 20% to 30%.


Firefighters are first responders that face similar challenges to those faced by police officers. Studies consistently show high rates of heavy or binge drinking. One study showed binge drinking as one of the most prevalent problems for professional firefighters, with 60% of the study participants reporting the behavior. 

In another study, heavy or binge drinking was reported in 50% of surveyed male firefighters in the past month and driving while intoxicated was reported by 9% of male firefighters. 

First responders also tend to show high rates of mental health issues including PTSD, depression, anxiety and suicide ideation. This could contribute to substance misuse as a way to self-medicate mental health symptoms.

Members of the Military

While active-duty military personnel undergo frequent drug testing, they tend to show higher rates of alcohol usethan the general population. According to research released in 2015, 1 in 5 veterans had a substance use disorder (compared to the national average of 1 in 11). Additionally, veterans with a substance use disorder are more likely to also have a mental health disorder, particularly PTSD or a depressive disorder.

We all find ways to cope with life’s stress, including stress from work. Sometimes those coping mechanisms can turn into substance abuse. In fact, nearly 10% of Americans have a drug use disorder at some point in their lives, but only 25% report receiving treatment. If you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction, call The Recovery Village today. We offer individualized treatment programs that can help you overcome your addiction and put you on a path to recovery.

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By – Ashley Sutphin
Ashley Sutphin Watkins received her degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Psychology and Journalism. Read more
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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.