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There’s a stigma with addiction – that of the addict passing out in an alley somewhere, unable to move, barely able to function at all.

While that image of addiction does come from a real place, there’s a far more prevalent face of addiction out in the world – that of the highly functioning professional.

Drug & alcohol addiction knows no bounds. It is not a poor person’s disease, it does not care about race, religion, social status, or career. Addiction affects every tier of society. That fact can be very surprising to people on the fringes of the addiction disease.

Below are the career fields that rank highest for addiction among the workforce. You’ll see that addiction really does run the gamut, and permeates some unexpected places.

Doctors

One of the most surprising fields that hosts a large set of addicts is the medical field, specifically doctors. An estimated 10% of healthcare professionals abuse drugs. That rate is in line with the rate of abuse in the entire general population, itself about 10%.

Of that 10% of healthcare professionals who abuse drugs and alcohol, doctors are by far the most affected.

Most doctors, however, aren’t abusing drugs for the fun of it. The most common reasons physicians use prescription drugs are to manage physical pain, emotional distress, and stressful situations.

Different types of doctors are more likely to abuse different types of drugs. 

A study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases compared drug use by health care professions, finding psychiatrists and emergency room doctors used drugs the most, while surgeons abused drugs the least.

Another study of American surgeons published in JAMA Surgery found 15.4% suffered from an alcohol use disorder. Female surgeons (25.6%) were more likely than male surgeons (13.9%) to exhibit symptoms of alcohol addiction.

The consequences of alcohol problems were concerning. Surgeons who reported feeling burned out or depressed were the most likely to have an alcohol use disorder, as were surgeons who reported making a major medical error within the previous three months.

Lawyers

Young lawyers face an enormous amount of stress, large debt payments, and a shrinking market for entry-level jobs coming out of college. That may be why about 29% of lawyers in their first decade of practice report problematic drinking behavior. 

Comparatively, 21% of attorneys in their second decade of practice suffer from alcohol use disorders.

Problematic drinking often begins during law school, but 44% of lawyers with alcoholism report drinking problematically for the first time during their first 15 years of practice.

Lawyers in law firms abuse alcohol at the highest rate, and junior associates have the highest rate of problematic drinking behavior. The statistics come from a 2014 joint study conducted by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

Accommodations and Food Services

This industry is made up of hotels, restaurants, bars, food-service contractors, and other like places. 

The profession leads all industries in what is called “past-month illicit drug use” (meaning that they have very recently used) and “past-year substance use” disorder categories by a significant margin. It ranks third in heavy alcohol consumption, behind mining and construction.

There isn’t one drug that these workers abuse most often. Employees may abuse depressants such as alcohol or marijuana in order to relieve stress or take stimulants such as cocaine or amphetamines to stay awake during long shifts.

High rates of drug use are likely related to a number of risk factors: high-stress work environments, low wages, young employees, high-turnover positions, and irregular hours.

Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation

This category includes amusement parks, gambling facilities, performing arts centers, musical groups, spectator sports, museums, theaters and historical sites. Employees include entertainers, athletes, and promotional agents or managers.

The line of work ranks second in “past-month illicit drug use”, third in “past-year substance use” disorder rates, and fourth in heavy alcohol use.

Employees abuse a variety of drugs for many differing reasons. These professions receive the most attention for celebrity overdoses and visits to rehab. However, the industry’s larger non-celebrity or behind-the-scenes workforce is just as likely to suffer from alcohol and drug abuse as their famous counterparts.

Risk factors in the industry include long hours, high turnover, high-pressure jobs, young workers, and workplace cultures conducive to illicit drug use.

Mining

The mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry includes companies that retrieve naturally occurring chemicals. Workers in the industry quarry, well, crush, screen, wash, and prepare minerals at mining and drilling sites.

Mining leads all industries in “past-month heavy alcohol use” and ranks fourth for “past-year substance use” disorder rates. However, “past-month illicit drug use” rates are the third lowest of all industries.

Alcohol is by far the most common substance abused in the mining industry. Roster systems may contribute to the problem. Miners usually work for two to three weeks and then take one week of leave. It is during this time away from the workplace that heavy alcohol consumption typically occurs.

Construction

The construction industry is second to mining for rates of heavy alcohol consumption and fourth in rates of illicit drug use. Construction is also second in the percentage of employees who suffer from substance use disorders.

Construction requires intense labor, long hours and unpleasant work environments. The conditions can cause soreness, aches and chronic pain. Workers often self-medicate with prescription pain relievers or turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with work-related stress and injury.

While these are the most affected industries, they are not the only industries affected by substance abuse. No addict is alone or unique in their struggle. There are always others going through the same thing. And there is always hope!

Brooks V.
Brooks V.
Brooks has been a freelance journalist for the better part of two decades, as well as spending a decade as a crisis intervention counselor. Through his own work and researching the work of others throughout the many facets of the detox, crisis intervention, and mental health worlds he has been able to tell the stories of those worlds in an effort to help addicts and those with mental illnesses understand and navigate them.