Occupations with the Highest Rates of Addiction & Abuse

Substance use hits the U.S. economy where it hurts. In 2007 it was estimated that Alcohol use and abuse cost the U.S. economy $249 billion each year, while illicit drug use has a $193 billion impact on national coffers.

In the workplace alone, misuse and addictions hurt productivity, cause accidents and injuries, resulting in sick days and long-term illness, and harm morale.

What Profession Has the Highest Rate of Alcoholism?

It was found that the heaviest drinking rates are among the people working in mining and construction industries. Among miners, 17.5 percent of full-time workers aged 18 to 64 admitted to alcohol abuse. Construction workers aren’t far behind with the heavy drinking: 16.5 percent of said they’d over-imbibed in the past month.

Mining is a demanding job, with workers facing life-and-death situations every day. They also handle heavy equipment under intense conditions. Some mining professionals may use drugs or alcohol to get through the day. Some may not want to seek help because they fear losing their jobs.

The construction industry is also one of the professions with the highest drug use, coming in second for substance use disorders. The field — which includes carpenters, laborers, painters, roofers, electricians, drillers, steelworkers, and inspectors — places fifth for illicit drug use.

Construction is a huge industry in the United States, with more than 10 million workers, which in part explains the higher ranking. But it is a stressful and hazardous occupation, too, with long hours, sometimes extreme conditions, and on-site dangers, especially if not everyone is on their A-game.

Seeking help for substance use disorders can literally be a life-saving decision.

Occupation with High Rate of Addiction

Mining and construction rank up there, but the accommodations and food services sector posts high rates of illicit drug use, too, with 19.1 percent of its workers admitting to using drugs such as cocaine or marijuana or prescription medications for non-prescribed purposes. Hospitality tends to place pretty high for alcohol abuse, too, typically landing behind mining and construction, but topping them for substance use disorders.

Hospitality covers a lot of fields — food and drink, events, theme parks, cruises, airlines, housekeeping, tourism, lodging, and more. Working in hospitality might not be as physically risky as construction or mining, but it is stressful, often with low pay and long hours on one’s feet while prepping or serving food, or bending to scrub and clean. Staff shortages or bad management can also add stress to these jobs.

When one thinks of hospitality and service, one might wonder, are bartenders alcoholics? Data indicates that bartenders are more likely to die from alcoholism compared to others. Among white men and women especially, the bartender-alcoholic connection is stronger. White male bartenders are 2.33 times more likely to die from alcoholism, while white female bartenders are 2.89 times more likely to succumb to the disease.

In Europe, one survey of bartenders in Denmark found that 71 percent drank on the job. A third admitted to feeling pressured to imbibe. One might not necessarily decide that bartenders are alcoholics, but it’s not an assumption that’s totally absurd.

In addition to long hours, shift work is sometimes linked to heavier alcohol consumption. Part of that is linked to disrupted sleep schedules.

About one-fourth of U.S. employees, or 15 million people, work outside the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, including food preppers and servers, health care workers, police and firefighters, and transportation workers. More than two-thirds have reported problems with excessive tiredness and/or insomnia.

Health Care

We turn to doctors and nurses for healing, but how many of them are in need of healing themselves?

In 2008, it was estimated that 10 to 12 percent of U.S. doctors had a substance use disorder. That’s slightly higher than what’s estimated for the general population.

A number of reasons are linked to the higher use for both doctors and nurses, including:

  • Easier access to drugs
  • Long hours, with sometimes not enough time to address their own health concerns
  • Trauma, especially when caused by treating patients with catastrophic injuries or witnessing patient deaths
  • Stress, burnout
  • Stigmas about seeking help
  • High-pressure situations, especially in medical school and in hospitals

Some doctors may resist treatment because many physician health programs last 90 days, compared to the average person’s 30-day stint in rehab. Being away from work for that long doesn’t always hold appeal, even though longer treatment programs can be highly effective.

Nursing faces some of the same problems. The American Nurses Association has estimated that up to 10 percent of registered nurses (RNs) may have a drug or alcohol dependency, but other sources have suggested that 14 to 20 percent of RNs have substance use disorders.

Many cases of doctors’ and nurses’ substance use disorders go unreported and untreated, which puts patients at risk because of the medical professionals’ poor judgment, unreliability, difficulty concentrating or reading instructions, sloppy record-keeping, and other problems.

Police and Firefighters

We count on the police to help keep our communities safe, including protecting us from criminal activities that may result from drug and alcohol abuse.

Not so well known is that nearly one-fourth of police officers admit to using drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, and prescription pain pills. It’s a troubling statistic because

  • The use is often illicit.
  • People rely on the police for their judgment and their ability to handle tense situations.

That goes hand in hand with one reason some officers may use or abuse substances. The work is physically demanding and is rarely nine-to-five. Police officers often deal with trauma and dangerous situations where they put their lives on the line. Due to the demands of the job, as many as 15 percent of police report having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Then there’s the stigma — some police officers feel that they’ll be admitting to weakness if they seek help.

Police officers and firefighters are both more likely to die by suicide than in the line of fire, further underscoring the stress of the work and the potential stigma of co-occurring disorders such as depression.

Now is the Time to
Seek Help

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Lawyers may have stressful jobs with long hours. They may deal with emotionally loaded matters related to crime, death, divorce, custody, civil rights, family matters, and more.

Whether working in the courts or performing private casework, the work may be high stakes and competitive. Law firm culture sometimes normalizes drinking as well. All are ingredients for potential substance use disorders.

As a result, it’s hardly surprising that studies have found substance use problems among lawyers. One-fifth of attorneys are problem drinkers. That’s nearly double the rate of the general educated population. More than a quarter of lawyers have reported depression, too, and 19 percent experience anxiety. Eleven percent have admitted to suicidal thoughts.

Changing law firm culture, trying to reduce hours, and making mental health a priority is just a handful of approaches toward reducing addiction and abuse rates among lawyers.

Finding Help

When reaching out for help, it’s best not to focus on the fear of stigma, but rather on getting better. Substance use disorder is a mental illness, like depression or bipolar disorder and can be managed successfully.

Mental illnesses are hardly rare, either. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2017:

  • 19.7 million Americans age 12 or older approximately had a substance use disorder
  • 46.6 million adults 18 and older (18.9 percent) had a mental illness
  • 11.2 percent of adults had a serious mental illness

Given these numbers, all occupations have people with substance use disorders and other mental illnesses. Some simply have higher rates of alcoholism or drug use, due to stressful conditions or long hours. Other people may have pre-existing illnesses such as depression or anxiety that contributes to their substance misuse.

Some segments of the population, such as LGBTQ individuals, also deal with ostracism and discrimination, and may develop co-occurring disorders (substance use disorder disorders and mental illnesses) because they are trying to self-medicate.

If you worry you may be alone in your struggle. It is important to consider that a lot of people have a similar story. Many have shared stories of their experiences with addiction, and some have succumbed, yes, but many have had a stellar second act after rehab.

Also, consider that employees with substance use disorders miss more days at work than non-abusers. If they show up hungover or impaired, both productivity and morale take a hit. When they fire employees, workplaces face costs because they have to hire new employees and train them. Finding help is worth it for everyone.

Talk with one of our treatment specialists . Call 24/: 949-276-2886


  • businessinsider.com – The 17 Jobs Where You’re Most Likely to Become an Alcoholic
  • health.harvard.edu – Doctors Aren’t Immune to Addiction
  • deadiverson.usdoj.gov – Drug Addiction in Health Care Professionals
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Drunken Environments: A Survey of Bartenders Working in Pubs, Bars and Nightclubs
  • addiction.surgeongeneral.gov – Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health
  • bmj.com – Five-Year Outcomes in a Cohort Study of Physicians Treated for Substance Use Disorders in the United States
  • sleepfoundation.org – How Atypical Work Schedules Affect Performance
  • nsc.org – Implications of Drug and Alcohol Use for Employers
  • samhsa.org – Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
  • ncsbn.org – A Nurse’s Guide to Substance Use Disorder in Nursing
  • cops.usdoj.gov – PTSD Among Police Officers: Impact on Critical Decision Making
  • journals.lww.com – The Sneaky Prevalence of Substance Use Disorder in Nursing
  • americanbar.org – Study on Lawyer Impairment
  • rudermanfoundation.org – Study: Police Officers and Firefighters Are More Likely to Die by Suicide than in Line of Duty
  • samhsa.org – Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry
  • sleepfoundation.org – What Is Shift Work?
  • blog.bpir.com – Workplace Stress as a Trigger for Addiction

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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