Substance Use in the Service Industry

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By: SUPE Editorial Team

Workers in the hospitality and service industry face unique challenges, and as a result, many struggle with addiction and mental health issues. Anyone familiar with the hospitality and service industry can confirm that it is challenging and stressful. It is common for employees, managers, and owners to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the job’s challenges.

Overall, hospitality and service workers are recognized as the largest users of drugs and alcohol in the American workforce.

The Prevalence of Substance Use in the Hospitality and Service Industry

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has estimated that employees of restaurants and hotels have the highest rates of substance abuse out of the entire American workforce.

Roughly 20% employees reported the use of illicit drugs.

Roughly 20% employees reported the use of illicit drugs.

Approximately 12% of employees engaged in heavy alcohol use.

Approximately 12% of employees engaged in heavy alcohol use.

17% of employees were diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

17% of employees were diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

What Causes the High Prevalence of Substance Use

There are many factors that contribute to the higher rates of substance use and addiction. This includes some of the following:

Icon used to represent long work hours

Long work hours and high stress

Icon used to represent low pay

Low pay and uncompetitive wages

Icon used to represent lack of compliance with labor laws

Lack of compliance with labor laws

Icon used to represent the social norms of drinking after work

Social norms such as drinking after work or drug use to stay awake

Icon used to represent the relatively younger workforce

Relatively younger workforce

Icon used to represent alcohol availability

Alcohol availability within the workplace

Stress is one of the most common factors that lead to binge drinking, heavy alcohol use, and drug use. Studies have found that employees who interact with customers regularly are more prone to stress-induced binge drinking.

Why Do So Few Hospitality and Service Workers Seek Help?

One would believe that within an industry of high substance use and addiction rates, more hospitality and service workers would seek treatment and help. However, this is not the case, and some of the reasons include the following:

  • There are limited affordable resources available. Many employees within these industries are working minimum-wage jobs. It is also common to be working more than one job. Unfortunately, financial restraints and lack of health insurance make it difficult to access treatment.
  • There is a fear of isolation. Within an industry where drug and alcohol use is common and, in some cases, expected by some, there is a fear of being isolated. It is difficult to admit there is a problem when so many people around you are using drugs and alcohol.
  • Most employees have poor job security. The hospitality industry has a higher turnover rate. When workers take time off, there is a fear of not having a job to return back to. In addition, many workers do not qualify for job protection.
  • Employees have frequent contact with drugs and alcohol. Long-term recovery from addiction can seem difficult when returning to a job rife with alcohol and substances.

Preventing Substance Use in the Service Industry

To prevent substance use from taking place, it is essential for employers to do the following:

  • Recognize how at risk their employees are. Being aware of this can help them spot which of their staff members may need help.
  • Offer assistance and allow staff members to leave work without fear of losing their job.
  • Make and enforce strict policies regarding substance use at work.

Test Your Knowledge

Substance Use in the Service Industry

Service workers always reach out for help and have ready access to substance use treatment.

What common factor tends to lead to binge drinking or heavy alcohol use?

Substance use in the service industry can be caused by long work hours and high stress.

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