Stress is by far one of the greatest precursors to an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcoholism is the most severe form of an AUD. Within the United States today, stress is skyrocketing, with one of the most commonly cited causes to be workforce-related. Oftentimes, the stress a person experiences within the workforce follows them home and pollutes what is supposed to be a safe haven and reprieve from these things. This negativity can translate into other facets of life that can pollute and damage lives further—alcohol abuse. Some people choose to react to this stress in an unhealthy way, and instead of managing it properly, they turn to alcohol as a means to self-medicate.
What Factors Within A Profession May Fuel A Person’s AUD?
Each job has its own unique challenges, responsibilities, stresses, environments, and social ramifications.
Here are several factors that a person may encounter within a variety of jobs that may precede or trigger alcohol use and abuse:
Access: Some jobs may themselves revolve around alcohol. These jobs, such as those within the service industry may put a person around alcohol on a day-to-day basis, providing temptation and greater acceptance of this behavior, both during and after work.
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Social Networking: Many jobs require people to engage in activities and events outside of the office or workplace proper. A large number of these events may involve or be centered around alcohol use. In the business world, among others, individuals take clients to dinner or to play golf, and often entertain and strive to impress them by providing alcohol. In addition to this and in any field, people may view going to the bar after work as an opportunity to not only let go of the day’s stress but as a chance to gain a sense of camaraderie with their coworkers.
Pain: Many jobs may cause physical stress or injury. These people may be more apt to consume alcohol as a way to moderate or numb the pain.
Irregular Hours Or Shift Work: People who work irregular hours or shifts, or those who work throughout the night may develop shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) which can usher in an array of health troubles. People who have a schedule that does not follow the typical circadian rhythm sleep patterns may be more inclined to consume alcohol as a sleep aid.
A study published by Oxford University Press’s Alcohol and Alcoholism Journal found that in comparison to other workers, night-shift workers with poor sleeping patterns had over two times the instance of engaging in heavy drinking, with a frequency of 17.6 percent.
Long Hours: Increasingly, within highly competitive fields, people are expected or pressured to work a greater number of hours. Also, a person may work more because they are suffering from financial duress. An increased number of hours may lead to several things that can trigger alcohol use and abuse: there is a greater opportunity for stress due to an increased time on the job, a person spends more time away from their family and friends, leading to a greater sense of disconnect, and workers may experience sleep deprivation. Research also suggests that working these long hours can lead to higher instances of depression and anxiety, both of which are risk factors for AUDs.
The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a study that examined 61 other studies, involving 333,693 people in 14 countries. This cross-sectional analysis found that “people working more than 48 hours a week at baseline had 1.13 times higher likelihood of new-onset risky alcohol use compared with those working standard hours.”
What Jobs Have The Greatest Number Of AUDs?
Every person is different, and every person has their own measure of tolerance, resolve, and flexibility. Each of us handles situations in a different manner and processes the stress, burdens, and emotions that stem from work in a unique way. Some may react in a way that is unhealthy and instead of confronting the negative emotions or burden of stress, they instead choose to consume alcohol in an attempt to alleviate these things.
An alcohol use disorder can occur in any line of work and to any type of person, regardless of their background, skill, educational level, or level of seniority. However, research illustrates that there are some professions that have higher instances of AUDS.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published findings entitled Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry from The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) report. It reported that annually, 8.7 percent of full-time workers ages 18-64 used alcohol heavily within the past month. Heavy alcohol use was defined here as “drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on 5 or more days in the past 30 days.”
This report focused on adults ages 18-64 within the period of time between 2008 and 2012. Here we display the report’s rankings defined by percent, for individuals who had past-month heavy alcohol use and who were employed full-time:
- Mining: 17.5
- Construction: 16.5
- Accommodations and food services: 11.8
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 11.5
- Utilities: 10.3
- Wholesale Trade: 10.2
- Management*: 9.9
- Manufacturing: 9.7
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: 9.4
- Retail Trade: 9.0
- Transportation and warehousing: 8.8
- Other services (except public administration): 8.5
- Real estate, rental, and leasing: 8.5
- Information: 8.1
- Professional, scientific, and technical services: 7.7
- Finance and insurance: 7.4
- Public administration: 6.6
- Educational services: 4.7
- and social assistance: 4.4
*The full title of this category is “Management of companies and enterprises, administration, support, waste management, and remediation services.”
They compared these findings to a period of time between 2003-2007. Mining and construction rose, experiencing a 1.3 and 0.9 percent increase, respectively, while arts, entertainment, and recreation; utilities, and wholesale trade saw decreases at 1.4, 0.7, and 2.2 percents, respectively. The report notes that they’re unsure why this fluctuation occurs, but suggested it might be due to “changes in climate in the industries (e.g., attitudes towards substance use, distribution of prevention messages) or shifts in the demographic compositions of the industries across these time periods.”
The report discussed the top two in greater depth. It found that even when they controlled for gender and age difference across the industries, the statistics pertaining to construction held true, they postulated that “there is something unique about past month heavy alcohol use for the construction industry that would remain even if the construction industry had the same gender and age distribution of any other industry.” On the other hand, within the mining industry, the rate changed when researchers controlled for age or gender differences, leading them to believe that the higher percentage of heavy drinking was related to the demographics of the industry.
Scientists question whether it is the job itself, the demographics of people attracted to certain jobs, or a combination of both that result in higher rates of drinking. Research suggests that it is variable, but most likely both. For instance, the two highest professions—mining and construction—are vastly physical and very labor-intensive. The exhaustion that results is one factor that may fuel this higher rate, as is the instance of a younger, male population that works within these careers (research illustrates that this demographic oftentimes has a higher rate of AUDs).
The third-ranking, accommodations and food services, may stem largely from environment and access. Within these professions, individuals are oftentimes steeped in environments that largely revolve around alcohol. Due to this, alcohol might at times seem glamorized—or even portrayed as a solution, as they witness a myriad of people drinking to have fun or to chase their worries.
Working around it also gives a person a greater opportunity to drink. Within the food services, it is common for people to have a drink at the end of their shift, and some individuals even report drinking during their shift. These professions are also very stressful, and both physically and mentally exhausting—these jobs also keep people up late at night, the risks of which we previously discussed.
Other professions suffer from this as well, a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine sought to determine the rate of substance abuse and mental health disorders in lawyers. It found that of 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys, 20.6 percent screened positive “for hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.” The same study also determined that 28 percent of study participants suffered from depression which very actively increases as a person’s chance of developing an AUD.
The Effect Of Alcohol Use Within The Workforce And Beyond
The damage from an alcohol use disorder is not contained solely to the person who consumes the alcohol. When an employee suffers from an AUD the repercussions extend past them, causing damage to their families, coworkers, the infrastructure of the business, and the American economy.
Impact On Their Job: Chronic alcohol use deflates a person’s ambition and impairs a person’s ability to focus, use, and develop critical thinking skills. Due to the stress and harm of an AUD on a person’s emotional, mental, and physical states (especially caused from hangovers or symptoms of withdrawal), a person is not able to withstand pressure as they once were. In some cases, a person may even miss work. Depending on the extent, all of these things—either individually or combined—may increase a person’s chance of being terminated. People that have AUDs have a harder time holding down jobs.
When a person is struggling in this way they are not achieving to the full extent of their abilities; due to this they might miss out on a raise or promotion and this financial loss translates to even bigger losses down the road.
Impact On Family: When a person fails to advance in their career or loses their job, their family suffers as well. Suddenly, the family is forced to live on a reduced income. In the worst-case scenarios, this can lead to missed or delinquent bills, foreclosure, or not having enough money to provide for adequate food or clothing.
Impact On Coworkers: As an individual’s worth ethic or focus becomes shaky and they begin to let their responsibilities fall to the wayside, their coworkers are the ones to pick up the slack. If a person takes sick days due to the effects of their AUD, their coworkers might have to fill in during their absence. In some situations, coworkers may be put in a tough position as they feel torn between the loyalty of hiding a person’s AUD or reporting it to their superiors.
Impact On The Business: Some people might drink alcohol while they are on the job, and even if they don’t, they might still suffer on the job due to its lingering effects from drinking off-work hours. A person’s concentration and energy may cause them to make more errors and miscalculations, while also causing them to fall behind in their responsibilities. Here we outline some of the most predominant side effects that an AUD has on a person’s employment, these are not limited only to a person that drinks on the job. A person who has an AUD who is sober at work may still suffer great detriment due to the impact of their AUD.
- Poor customer relations
- Decreased employee morale
- Increased sick leave as a person suffers from hangovers or withdrawal
- Increased rate of on-the-job injury or accidents for either the individual or those around them
- Greater chance of fatality, for both themselves and those around them
- Decreased production and greater inefficiency
- Impaired decision making, cutting corners, and lower quality of work
- Difficulty staying on task or performing the duties and responsibilities of their position
- Theft (a person might steal in order to make money to fuel their addiction)
- Problems between coworkers and their peers and supervisors
- Increased rate of turnover
As a person’s productivity falters, this discrepancy affects the outcome and production of the business as a whole. When a person takes sick leave due to an AUD, the business has to absorb the financial implications of paying out on it, for those who have benefits, not to mention absorbing the implications of lost work or productivity that arises in their absence. Abusing alcohol increases a person’s chance of having an on-the-job injury or causing an injury to another person, which could lead to worker’s compensation and an increase in insurance rates.
Impact On Our Nation’s Economy: If a person loses their job due to an AUD, they or their family may have to seek state or federal aid to help them stay on their feet. NIDA reports that abuse of alcohol costs an estimated $25 billion annually for healthcare within our nation. NIAAA reports that “in 2010, alcohol misuse problems cost the United States $249.0 billion.”
Taking Control Of The Situation
Some jobs offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that are designed to help during situations like these. Due to the cost, not every job offers this assistance, however, time and success show that in the long run these programs generally pay for themselves. An EAP helps a person to contend with either personal or work-related concerns that may be affecting their performance within their job or that of their general health and wellbeing.
According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, a person is able to receive “a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services.” These programs extend past government jobs to the private sector and typically offer similar measures of assistance. Not only can these programs help you cope with your AUD, but they can help you to address other things, such as mental health problems or life changes that might be influencing your alcohol use and abuse.
It is hard for any person to admit that they have a problem. It can be especially hard for a person to admit they have a problem that is disrupting their livelihood. You must remember that seeking help is only going to help you succeed further within all aspects of your life, including your career. You might be frightened or worried about the impact that taking time off to seek rehabilitation will have on your job, or how much it will cost. What you must remember is that if you continue drinking, your job and finances will actually be more jeopardized in the long run.