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Substance Abuse Statistics: Construction Workers

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

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Substance Abuse Statistics - Construction Workers

Alcohol and drug addiction can affect anyone. However, people who work in the construction industry have significantly higher rates of addiction. In a survey of different fields, the construction industry emerged as having the second highest rate of heavy alcohol use. 

Construction workers were also found to have the second highest rate of prevalence for substance use disorder. Among all professionals, construction workers are the most likely to abuse opioids and cocaine. Dealing with these problems requires a great understanding of the factors behind them and ensuring that workers have access to quality addiction treatment programs and resource centers.

Rates of Substance Use Disorder Among Construction Workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry employs more than 7.2 million people. It makes sense, given the size of the industry, that there would be a sizable number of people among the workforce who suffer from addiction. However, even compared to larger industries, such as the hospitality industry, the rates of substance use disorder among construction workers are significant.

In a survey of multiple construction sites, researchers found that 17% used illicit down. Among full-time construction workers, 16.5%, or 1.6 million people, were found to have engaged in binge drinking in the last month. 14.3% of full-time construction workers had diagnosed substance use disorders, though the number of individuals with undiagnosed and untreated substance use disorders is likely much higher.

Factors that Influence Substance Abuse in the Workplace

There is no one single cause that explains the high rates of substance abuse among construction workers. However, the population make-up of the industry itself can provide something of an explanation. Of all people employed in the construction industry, 90% are men. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, men are statistically more likely to abuse illicit substances and to drink heavily. In a work environment dominated almost entirely by man, it can be presumed that this tendency toward substance abuse would be even stronger, given that male-dominated environments are often characterized by competition, violence, and aggression. However, the gender make-up of the workforce is not the only factor at play.

Construction work is by its nature demanding. Workers are required to perform physically arduous tasks that are often repetitive. The manual labor that construction workers do exerts a toll on mental health, leading to conditions like anxiety disorder and major depression, both of which are linked to substance abuse. Over time, the physical work that construction workers do can lead to chronic pain or on-the-job injuries. Chronic pain is a common contributor to addiction, with many people turning to substances to self-medicate. 

Doctors also often prescribe opioid pain medications to help workers manage their chronic conditions. Unfortunately, opioids are commonly abused even by people holding legitimate prescriptions. Over time, even individuals who would not normally use drugs recreationally can develop a debilitating dependence. Given the intensity of the work that construction workers do, drug or alcohol dependence can lead to severe consequences.

Risks of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in The Construction Industry

The most common causes of death or injury on the job are due to transportation accidents, falls, exposure to toxic substances, and being struck by heavy objects. People who work in construction are particularly susceptible to all of these types of accidents. For that reason, construction sites go to great lengths to ensure that workers are safe. Nonetheless, when an employee is drunk, high, or going through withdrawal, it can become difficult to ensure personal safety. 

Engaging in drug or alcohol abuse on or even off the job site can worsen a worker’s ability to understand or follow safety guidelines. Even those who do follow safety protocols to the letter are vulnerable, since drugs and alcohol impair coordination, reaction time, and decision-making. When a construction worker suffers from an untreated drug or alcohol use disorder, they are endangering not just themselves, but their coworkers.

Treating a Substance Use Disorder

Ultimately, the risks of suffering from a substance use disorder extend beyond the job site. Individuals who suffer from addiction are likely to lose their jobs, their friends, and often their families. Addiction is a progressive illness that continually worsens a person’s quality of life. 

Over time, if left untreated, it can even lead to loss of life. While it may be tempting to try to control ones substance abuse using willpower alone, addiction by its very nature impairs a person’s ability to commit to such decisions. The only way of managing a substance use disorder is by reaching out for help. By spending a few hours a day at an outpatient treatment center, construction workers with addiction can receive talk therapy, learn new coping tools, and develop a strong sober social support system. 

Outpatient and intensive outpatient addiction treatment centers offer construction workers the resources and support they need to make a full recovery and begin leading full lives, without even having to stop working. No matter how hopeless an addiction seems, sobriety is possible.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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