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Which Occupations Have The Highest Rates Of Addiction?

Which Occupations Have The Highest Rates Of Addiction?
Written by Seth Fletcher on September 25, 2019
Last update: May 15, 2024

There are a lot of different factors that can lead people to alcohol or drug use. Some might have suffered from a trauma which led them to a substance use disorder, while others may have family history of drug use that made them more susceptible to such a lifestyle. The circumstances that brought someone on the path to drug or alcohol abuse do not always indicate why they continue to use, and a commonality among all addicts is that they use for stress relief. In our society this type of behaviour is often accepted, and as long as people are able to stay functional at work, even in high risk situations, heavy alcohol or drug use can go years without being noticed. For people who have high stress occupations, the draw to drug abuse can be high, and this is reflected in the numbers of addicts seen in different career fields.

Hospitality Workers

People in the food service and hospitality business seem to have some of the highest rates of addiction. Some studies show that around 16.9% of hospitality workers report having substance use issues, which is not surprising when you take a look at their lifestyle. Restaurant managers, chefs, wait staff, bartenders, and other people who work in restaurants and bars, have a lot of access to alcohol and often work very long hours. Often, bartenders and waitresses are pressured into drinking with the patrons, as it is seen as a good way to make more money. The idea is that if you are able to drink with patrons, they are more likely to drink more themselves. This type of behaviour can easily lead to alcohol abuse issues. According to one study done of a major chain restaurant in the United States, 80% of the males in the study and 64% of the females engaged in heavy drinking behaviour. These types of statistics are quite common in the hospitality industry, and is a huge reason why this sector has such a high addiction rate.

Doctors and Health Care Professionals

People in the health care industry, including doctors, surgeons, nurses and paramedics, are often drawn into substance use disorders by way of stress. Health Care Professionals often work incredibly long hours and have to deal with high stress situations. Without adequate support, they can easily start using alcohol or drugs as a way to calm down after long shifts or after the occurrence of a traumatic event, such as a patient dying. Slowly, over time, this coping mechanism becomes problematic and addiction takes hold. Health care workers also have easy access to certain drugs, and they are just as susceptible to misuse as anyone else. Being able to get their hands on such drugs as opioids without drawing suspicion can allow the drug use to go unnoticed, and some studies suggest that doctors are more likely to misuse prescription drugs than their patients.


The law profession also runs under the category of high stress occupations, and with that comes a greater risk of drug or alcohol addiction. Lawyers will often work incredibly long hours (80+ hours per week) and are under a lot of pressure to perform well. The working culture in a lot of law firms reward long hours and perfectionism, and those unable or unwilling to put in the long hours are often overlooked for job promotion. These types of conditions often lead people to seek stress relief via drugs or alcohol, and as long as the lawyer is able to perform, bad behaviour can be ignored. There is also a culture of heavy alcohol use within the law profession, where deals are often made over drinks and there is an expectation that all will participate. This type of work culture can create dependency on alcohol, and it can be seen as a potential trigger for the high rate of addiction in this sector.

Arts and Entertainment

The entertainment industry has a very famous relationship with both drug abuse and alcohol use disorder. Oftentimes, artists associate creativity with their drug of choice, so the relationship between them and their substance can be very difficult to break. They believe that by drinking or by taking illicit drugs, they are able to be more creative, which is what they need to survive as artists. There are countless examples of famous actors, writers and musicians who all suffered from substance use disorders, and when you examine the general lifestyle, it is easy to see why. Parties where both drugs and alcohol are flowing freely are common for this sector of the professional world, so access can be seen as a motivator. While famous people seem to have everything they could possibly want, they also report living a very lonely life with no real connection to the people around them. Loneliness can make certain substances more appealing, as it masks the difficult emotions you may be feeling. For this reason and many others, people in the arts and entertainment industry often succumb to substance abuse. This can be among the highest of occupations with drug addiction issues.


People who do construction work have a big part to play in the opioid epidemic. Construction workers are at high risk of injury, resulting in them being given prescriptions for opioids, which are highly addictive. Construction workers often do repetitive physical activity in which can lead to chronic pain conditions, and the use of prescription drugs can ensure that they are able to continue working. The problem, however, is that the construction worker will simply continue to hurt themselves on the job, and more or stronger pain killers are needed in order to make the pain subside. It is impossible for the body to heal if it is not able to rest, and since workers are unable to take time off for every injury, working through the pain becomes the norm. It is easy to see why construction workers have high amounts of opioid use not only due to the nature of the job, but also because of the lack of support from their employers. It is not easy for workers to take time off in this industry, and working with pain is the expectation.


Like construction, the mining industry has a large population of opioid drug users. Due to the risk of injury that comes with the job, they are also more likely to need painkillers, and the use often moves into dependency. Just as in construction, miners are often doing physically demanding repetitive work which can easily lead to chronic pain. If a miner gets a prescription to a pain medication, they will constantly need to increase the dose to get the same effect. Slowly but surely, the miner is then dependent on the painkillers just to get through everyday life, and addiction starts to take over. There is also a lot to be said for the general working conditions of miners. They work long shifts underground, and this can lead to a lot of mental health issues such as depression. When you combine the physical demands of the job and the mental health issues, it can be obvious as to why there would be a lot of prescription drug abuse and opioid overdose deaths among miners.


Though this category can include many types of management positions, the area that seems to have a higher risk of addiction issues within this category are upper management positions, where people are responsible for large numbers of workers. Directors and business managers often work long hours, and these positions tend to come with a high level of stress that can gradually erode the person's coping skills. The high stress levels often lead to substance abuse as the business managers seek ways of coping with the demands of the job. This coping mechanism slowly leads to dependency, and it can be very difficult for those in upper management to seek help. Due to the nature of their job, upper management workers have a lot of responsibilities, and organizations often rely on them to oversee the running of the entire company. With such high demands placed on them, these workers often feel as though they cannot take time off to seek addiction treatment, especially if they are not covered for this under an employee assistance program.

Sales Professionals

This category can include retail workers, real estate agents or wholesale trade. These jobs come with a lot of performance pressure, because their income and employment frequently relies on commission. These jobs also come with a lot of social engagements: sales professionals frequently have to attend functions that involve heavy alcohol use in order to secure clientele. The combination of performance-based compensation and social pressure can cause a lot of people in the sales industry to overindulge in alcohol use, which eventually causes a high rate of addiction.

Police and Firefighters

Both of these jobs have high risk situations and long working hours, and they come with a high probability of experiencing or handling trauma. In order to deal with these stressors, both of these groups have many members who turn to substances. Though police officers tend to use both drugs and alcohol, firefighters tend to report higher numbers of binge drinking issues. According to one study, police officers had a one in four rate of substance use disorders, which is not surprising due to the nature of the job. As stated above, firefighters seem to come down on the binge drinking side of things, with one study showing that 60% of firefighters reporting heavy alcohol use or binge drinking behaviour. Both police officers and firefighters often have untreated mental illness that can trigger problematic drinking. When mental illness goes untreated, people often turn to alcohol or drugs to help them alleviate the symptoms. Since both police and firefighters see trauma every day, their use of drugs and alcohol is understandable, and this is why their professions are at higher risk of increased addiction rates.


Though military personnel are drug tested regularly, their use of alcohol is often higher than that of the general population. Similarly to police officers and firefighters, members of the military are often in high risk situations which may lead to increased use of alcohol or illicit drugs. Stress relief is a underlying factor in a lot of alcohol use, so this is not surprising. Along with stress, military professionals and veterans have a high rate of mental illness, especially those who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Due to the nature of the job, people in the military often witness traumatic events which can trigger PTSD, and if this is left untreated, it can cause many problems. When dealing with the aftereffects of war or combat, military personnel might start abusing substances in order to forget the things that they have seen. The numbers linking drug abuse and trauma are relevant for all parts of society, so the prevalence of such substance use disorder in this sector should not be surprising.

Substance abuse hits all parts of our society, regardless of disposable income, gender, age or race. The link between addiction and some career fields should not be surprising when one takes a look at some of the root causes of substance use. Most of the occupations that report the highest number of addiction issues have a high stress environment. This stress leads to substance use as a way of coping, and eventually, that use turns into dependence. As in the general population, mental health issues play a large role in the prevalence of addiction in different professional populations. No matter how an individual's mental health concerns arise, the fact is that our society does not adequately address these issues. This causes people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. It should be no surprise that in occupations where people are exposed to a lot of trauma, drug and alcohol use disorders are higher. Even for those who undergo addiction treatment programs, the risk of relapse can be high in the absence of a proper relapse prevention plan, especially if the individual does not have the support of close friends, a spouse or sponsor, or other family members. More needs to be done to ensure that these workers are able to get the help they need so that substance abuse no longer seems like a good option to help them deal with their problems.

Photo credit: This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.


Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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