SAMHSA Study Shows Alcohol and Substance Abuse In 10% of U.S. Workforce

By John Lavitt 06/02/15

A new survey has found that substance abuse has increased among some sectors of the American workforce.

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After the National Survey on Drug Use revealed that workplace-related alcohol and drug use continues to plague many American industries, SAMHSA has made drug-free workplaces a 2015 priority. Of the 17.4 million current illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2007, 13.1 million, or 75.3%, were employed either full or part-time. Beyond drug use in the workforce, the use of alcohol on-and-off the job has increased as well.

The overall data compiled and analyzed from the 2008 to 2012 period indicated that an annual average of 8.7% of full-time workers in the 18-64 age range used alcohol heavily in the past month, 8.6% used illicit drugs in the past month, and 9.5% were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year. Heavy alcohol use among full-time workers in the U.S. aged 18 to 64 reached 17.5% in the mining industry and 16.5% in the construction industry.

SAMHSA says it’s not so much the nature of these industries but the types of people who work them: young Caucasian males who typically consume more alcohol than other groups. According to SAMHSA, heavy alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other. Another way to gauge heavy alcohol use is five or more days of heavy drinking in the past 30 days.

The survey found the highest rates of past month illicit drug use of 19.1% was found in the accommodations and food services industry. These same workers had the highest rates of past year substance use disorder at a startling rate of 16.9%. In entertainment-oriented service industries where alcohol is present, the danger is omnipresent and often disregarded by employers. In addition, once again, male-dominated or youth-dominated industries tend to have both higher substance use and alcohol use rates.

The focus on a drug-free workplace is a cornerstone of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, which was enacted in 2008. Citing the Office of National Drug Control Policy, SAMHSA observed that, “substance use negatively affects U.S. industry through lost productivity, workplace accidents and injuries, employee absenteeism, low morale, and increased illness. U.S. companies lose billions of dollars a year because of employees’ alcohol and drug use and related problems.”

SAMHSA points out that an effective substance abuse testing policy is the key to helping employers reduce the incidences of drug and alcohol use in their workplaces. Employers often play a critical role in an individual’s successful recovery from substance use disorders. SAMHSA believes it is crucial that employers promote healthy work environments while allowing individuals to get the support and treatment they need.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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