There are several industries in the American workforce that are essential to the structure of our society. These industries tend to require a heavy workload from their workers. Most notable among them is the American restaurant industry. Due to its heavy workloads, intense shifts and schedules, food service workers often find themselves searching for coping mechanisms. This puts food service professionals at a high risk of substance abuse problems and addiction.
Those who work in the restaurant industry are more likely to binge drink, use illicit drugs, or find themselves diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. Many find that substances are the only way to cope with the fast-paced work and to keep up with the workload.
However, the fact that this substance abuse is not only common but also socially acceptable is beyond startling. The reason it thrives in the industry is that there seem to be few consequences to substance abuse in this field. Above all, it is encouraged by the lifestyle of food service workers. This article will further delve into the connections between substance abuse addiction and the restaurant industry, thriving substance abuse, and why it seems food service professionals hardly stand a chance against it.
About the American Restaurant Industry
Since so many Americans rely on food services and restaurants it is no surprise that it is one of the biggest industries in the country. This demand keeps over 5 million Americans employed, but the long workdays, few breaks, and constant demand to meet the needs of the public make the industry less than desirable to work in.
The food service industry is known for its rough work, but also low wages, lack of benefits, and lack of support for workers. In a way, it acts as a lawless land where as long as the job is done employees are left without guidance or intervention from management. This is comforting for some, but if more support were present substance abuse in the food service industry would be far less common.
Substance Abuse in the Food Service Industry
Food service professionals are subjected to long workdays with erratic schedules, late closing shifts backed with early opening shifts, and the general physical wear and tear the fast-paced industry takes on them. In some way or another the industry takes a toll on food service workers which causes them to find means of coping or even self-medicating.
It is unfortunate that many seek out substances as a means of coping with the job. However, the atmosphere created by the food service industry enables substance abuse. Many workers find themselves using before, after, or during a shift because it is socially acceptable to do so. Alcohol and drugs can be used to help a food service worker push through a rough shift, relieve some stress, or simply help bond with coworkers.
Most Common Abused Substances in the Food Service Industry
The motivation behind substance abuse in the food service industry can vary from managing stress to needing a boost to get through a shift. The trends show that the substances consumed may be influenced by social norms more than need to get through a shift. Alcohol and other depressants (such as certain opioids) are known to relax the user rather than give a boost of energy. However, that does not discount other illicit drugs from common use in the industry.
In fact, the most commonly abused substances in the food service industry are:
- 81% Marijuana
- 31% Painkillers/Prescriptions
- 28% Cocaine
- 61% Beer
- 47% Liquor
- 37% Mixed drinks
The high use of alcohol might indicate workplace abuse is used to lessen the stress of the job more than helping provide a boost of energy to make it to the end of a shift.
Why is Substance Abuse So Common?
The good news is substance abuse is not completely universal in the food service industry. While there are many who suffer from addiction or abuse substances, most food service workers have never used drugs or alcohol while working. In fact, only about 1 out of 10 food service workers admit to using drugs while working, while only 1 in 20 says the same for using alcohol during a shift. However, just because these numbers are not overwhelmingly large that does not mean substance abuse should go ignored. This is especially true given that the food service industry seems to encourage the use of substances in one way or another.
In fact, the food service industry is considered the most at-risk industry when it comes to developing a substance abuse disorder. In many cases, drug use is far more common than alcohol consumption. A large number of workers claim they consume alcohol at work although not always regularly, but more claim they use drugs on a regular basis to get through a shift.
But what makes it so common in food service industry workplaces?
It is likely due to how socially acceptable it is to use substances while working a shift. Substances have a way of helping workers cope and bond with their coworkers. In recent years, it has become common practice in food service culture to go to the bar after a shift or before starting a shift. In fact, a number of workers say they get alcohol from the in-house bar. This makes it common for many food service workers.
The comradery among workers creates a form of peer pressure that encourages workers to partake in substance abuse as a means of fitting in with others. Given all the stressful elements of the job, having a drink with coworkers while on the job might act to lessen that stress. If they fit in with the crowd it is one less thing to worry about.
Aside from the aforementioned demands (such as heavy workload, crazy schedules, high stress, etc.) that cause workers to abuse substances, certain demographics seem more likely to abuse than others.
Common Demographics Among Food Service Workers Who Abuse Substances
It is very common for food service workers to be younger. Many workers are students or just entering the workforce. The restaurant industry offers flexibility and a chance to build up work experience. This makes a majority of substance abusers young, usually in the Millennial and Gen X generations.
Location seems to have an impact on how common substance abuse is as well. The Midwest, where opioid abuse is known to be rampant, has the highest rates of substance abuse among food service workers. The south, northeast, and west are lesser-known locations for frequent substance abuse among food service workers.
Perhaps most notably, men are known to be twice as likely to use substances not only before or after, but during a shift, which means that gender plays an important role.
Does the Food Service Industry Enable Substance Abuse?
Allowing substance abuse to become common practice with several food service workers does nothing to help or stop the abuse from turning to addiction. While it is the responsibility of the user to practice safe use of drugs and alcohol, many restaurants create an environment where substance abuse can only thrive. By pushing workers to the edge with long shifts, little breaks, and hard work they leave little space for healthy outlets or means of coping.
Lack of Livable Wages and Benefits
Food service jobs do not pay well. In fact, most of those who work in the food service industry rely heavily on tips as their hourly wage is rarely enough to cover living costs. This is the case for most servers, but especially in places like the kitchen, the wages are far below ideal. For many working to support a family, this forces them to work more hours to make up for the lack of pay. This added stress most definitely adds to the desire to abuse alcohol and substances after the job. That can easily lead to addiction where a worker might find a need to use drugs or alcohol to make it through a shift.
Wages aside, most food service workers do not receive any form of health benefits from their jobs. This places them in a difficult position. If a worker finds they cannot keep up with the demands of the job or are overly stressed, they may turn to alcohol to cope.
On the other hand, if a worker were to suffer an injury on the job they are faced with other issues. If they cannot physically meet the needs of the job, they could lose their income. This could cause a food service worker to self-medicate using opioids, such as pain killers, in order to perform.
The lack of health benefits leaves workers no place to turn to prevent abuse and possible addiction, but also offers no source of help when they do find themselves suffering from addiction. If a food service worker should find themselves addicted to substances in order to operate through rough shifts, they will also find the option of treatment is not easily available.
Workplace Repercussions for Substance Abuse
With the hope of treatment far from accessible, most food service workers will find that substance abuse prevention methods are nearly nonexistent. In most cases, if prevention methods are in place, most food service workers find that they are hardly enforced. In fact, most workers who are caught using substances while on shift rarely face any sort of repercussions for doing so. Far fewer report actually being let go from their jobs due to substance abuse or seeing coworkers abuse. Many restaurants tend to turn a blind eye allowing workers to abuse substances as long as they perform their jobs.
While there are those who offer support or take substance abuse seriously, it seems more common for them to not consider the problem something they should be concerned about. Few restaurants offer any form of Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a program created to address substance abuse among employees.
The lack of support and leniency from restaurant management is truly unfortunate as they are missing the opportunity to reach out and help employees who might desperately need it. Without any kind of health benefit or accessible treatment, EAPs might have been the only chance some workers had to get help and save their lives.
Long-Term Effect of Substance Abuse for Food Service Workers
On a positive note, most food service workers do not notice a difference in their drug alcohol use outside of work or even after leaving the service industry. Many of them claim to have a massive decrease in substance abuse after leaving the industry. Perhaps this has to do with a lighter workload, less stress, or maybe moving on to an environment where substance abuse is not so encouraged. In any case, it is always great to celebrate a life untouched by addiction.
However, there are those who do not escape the abuse just because they leave the industry. In fact, some find that industry led them to change their habits outside of work. This, unfortunately, leads many to the path of addiction. Without help from EAPs or benefits which would help connect them to treatment programs, this can be a slippery slope for addiction.
The environment created by the food service industry favors substance abuse, and does little to slow it down.
Can the Food Service Industry Do Better?
There is no real reason why substance abuse thrives in the food service industry. It is not an environment where drugs are generally available for all. If workers find themselves using drugs on the job, they will have to bring them from outside the restaurant. Alcohol use is far more accessible for employees on the job, but in most cases, it seems management does little to nothing to regulate employees consuming it.
So why do we see so much abuse and what can the industry do to fix it?
Better Wages and Hours
Offering a livable wage to workers might not completely discourage substance abuse, but it would provide them with more opportunities to seek help. If they are given benefits, they have the option to seek out help before addiction fully overcomes them.
In a general sense, employees who are well-paid are happier. They are well adjusted and more likely to enjoy the work they do rather than suffer through it resulting in unhealthy coping mechanisms.
A livable wage would also cut back the need for working excessive hours to make up for the lack of pay. If workers work decent hours, they will find themselves with more time to manage their stress, such as with exercise, time spent with family, and personal downtime. This could immensely help a worker balance their mental health with their workload making for a more efficient worker.
Better Support and Resources
If more restaurants offered Employee Assistance Programs or even general support from management, food service workers would have the opportunity to get help before things become too dire. Noticing an employee’s problem and offering support to not only resolve it but create a better workplace could mean life or death for a person who might have succumbed to addiction.
Consequences and Discouraged Use of Substances
Most managers will turn a blind eye to substance abuse. They might see it as a necessary evil to have a fully functioning restaurant. Or they may simply see it as not a problem as long as the job is being done effectively.
Considering most workers report barely a slap on the wrist when caught using substances on or off the job, there is little done to discourage the use of substances. This could mean the difference between saving a life or not.
By enforcing a strict no substance policy, restaurants can help change the environment from one that embraces substance abuse to one that encourages healthy coping methods. This might not seem like the popular choice for the workers, but in the long run it could potentially save lives who may have been impacted by addiction.
Food Industry Workers Seeking Help
There are situations in life that prevent a person from being picky about where they work. However, it is important to take into consideration the statistics of substance abuse before taking a job in the service industry. There are several risks associated with being around abusive behavior and an environment that encourages it. If a food service worker finds they are already suffering from addiction, it would be wise to avoid such an atmosphere that might encourage substance abuse or lead to a relapse.
In turn, if a food service worker finds they have formed an addiction to substances they should not hesitate to seek out resources that could help them. There are many rehabs and treatment centers that offer plans that may work with their lifestyles. Some workers may find outpatient treatment facilities offer the tools they need to manage their addiction and the temptation to use substances.
Addiction Recovery at NuView Treatment Center
NuView Treatment Center, a treatment center located in West Los Angeles, specializes in a wide range of outpatient treatment programs for food service professionals and others who want to escape from the painful cycle of drug or alcohol dependence. Our comfortable and safe facility, highly trained staff, and evidence-based treatment approaches can help anyone, regardless of the severity of their addiction.
Our rehab includes every level of care, including:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
- Outpatient programs (OPs)
- Aftercare planning
At NuView Treatment Center, we believe in approaching addiction treatment on a whole-person basis. We utilize compassion at all times. Rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction treatment, we recognize that each of our clients is an individual with unique needs, underlying problems, and a personal history. Our team members devise individualized treatment plans for every client who walks through our doors so that they can develop the coping skills they need to stay sober and live lives that are happy, meaningful, and drug and alcohol-free.
If you are a food service worker and you need help with a drug or alcohol problem, help is available. Contact us today for a confidential and entirely free initial consultation.