Substance Use and Construction Workers

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Construction is physically and mentally challenging. It is common for many workers to resort to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or self-medicate to manage physical pain. Construction workers can turn to licit or illicit substances because of long work days, physical pain, stress, work-related disability, and mental health issues.

Prevention, education, treatment, and support is the only successful approach to helping these men and women.

Recovery and Treatment Options for Construction Workers

Substance use and drug addiction are often glorified in the construction industry. The saying has gone: if you are not divorced, using drugs, or an alcoholic, are you really a construction worker? Yet, this culture has changed significantly over the year with more awareness, younger workers, and employers realizing the damage substance use causes.

It is a tough job, and the men and women who do it put their bodies through a lot. Individuals who own construction companies, site supervisors, project managers, or team leaders are under significant stress. The people paying the bills expect deadlines to be met on budget and correctly done.

Addiction is prevalent, yet there are numerous treatment options. Most large construction companies provide Employee Assistance Programs. In addition, drug testing has proven effective for early intervention and injury prevention.

Additionally, outpatient and inpatient treatment centers have proven effective in helping construction workers. Support is also critical, such as recovery meetings or peer support groups.

What Can Construction Employers Do?

The primary focus for construction employers should be to create and maintain a safe work environment for employees. For example, increase morale and productivity, decrease absenteeism, accidents, and employee turnover, and improve employee health.

It should be a continued effort to prevent injuries and expand opportunities for education concerning substance use prevention, mental health support, and alternatives to pain management.

Employers can do some of the following:

Icon used to represent an injury

Identify factors that pose a risk of injury and eliminate or minimize this risk.

Icon used to represent health benefits

Health benefits should cover comprehensive injury care, physical therapy, substance use, and mental health treatment.

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Employee assistance and peer support programs should be established.

Icon used to represent drug and alcohol prevention

Prevention and education about drugs should be provided to employees.

What Prevents Construction Workers from Seeking Help?

  • A culture of toughness. Individuals working in the construction industry feel pressured to be tough, work through the pain, and hide their emotions. This culture can make it difficult to admit a person needs help.
  • There is a distrust of medical professionals. Most construction workers will state that clinicians have no idea what the job is like and what it takes to make it in construction. In addition, when doctors are quick to prescribe pain medication or overprescribe these drugs, construction workers are leery to ever go back.
  • There are significant job security concerns. Not every construction worker has the support of a labor union or any job security. Suppose a worker takes time off to go to rehab or counseling; there is a genuine concern they will not have a job when they get back. In addition, most construction jobs are hourly paid, which means you are not making money when you are not working. The same applies to business owners; the job is paid when completed.

The Signs of Addiction in Construction Workers

Most construction workers will hide their struggles with substance use and addiction, but there are some warning signs to look for:

  • Increased risk-taking on the job and ignoring safety.
  • Neglecting work responsibilities and deadlines.
  • Bloodshot eyes, large pupils, or small pupils.
  • Changes in physical appearance and bad personal hygiene.
  • Impaired coordination and motor skills.
  • Missing work frequently or always showing up late.
  • Drastic and unexplained changes in personality and attitude.
  • Drastic mood swings.

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Substance Use and Construction Workers

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