Occupation, Job Characteristics, and the Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs

Article excerpt

This study uses detailed information from the Department of Labor (O'NET 98) concerning the characteristics and content of 1,122 occupations, and combines these data with information on alcohol and drug use collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in their 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). Using a merged data set, based on 7,477 full-time workers, weighted logistic regression analyses were used to examine the relationships between eight occupational and job dimensions and workers' current and prior use of alcohol and drugs. Results show that steady employment or job security has the most pronounced negative effect on alcohol and drug use, while characteristics such as the pace of activity, job independence, and skills utilization to include feelings of accomplishment have little or no effect on employees' alcohol and drug use. Furthermore, the etiology of cocaine use appears quite different from that of alcohol and other types of drug use: all else being equal, employees' odds of using cocaine, when working in an occupation with greater job variety, decrease by 64 percent. However, employees in occupations with greater job autonomy are about 4 times more likely to use cocaine than are employees in jobs with less autonomy. These findings suggest that occupational conditions have a discernible influence on alcohol and drug use among employees, albeit in more complex ways than those suggested by much of the organizational stress and occupational subcultural literature.

Keywords: occupation, alcohol, drugs, job characteristics, NHSDA, O'NET, marijuana, cocaine.

The improper use of drugs of all types exacts a tremendous toll in that it fuels abusive relationships, crime, accidents, worker absenteeism and the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (Mangione et al., 1999; Manski, Pepper & Petrie, 2001; Zhang, Huang & Brittingham, 1999). About 12 billion dollars have been spent in 2002 by the U.S. federal government to curb illicit drug use (Office of National Drug Control Policy ONDCP, 2003), up from $1 billion dollars in the early 1980s (ONDCP, 1998). Although a serious problem, few data are available in a single source that contains sufficient information concerning occupational characteristics, as well as measures of workers' substance abuse status. Respondents' occupations generally have been classified into broadly defined categories such as "blue-collar workers vs. others", as a control variable in modeling (Vasse, Nijhuis, & Kok, 1998). And researchers are not infrequently forced to use occupational information with categories developed for an economy that existed between a quarter and a half a century ago (Barley, 1996; Miller, Treiman, Cain, & Roos, 1980;).

In an attempt to overcome some of the data and methodological limitations of prior research, the present study analyzed the presence of substance abuse among U.S. workers using data from the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), and merging these data with information contained in the 1998 Occupational Information Network database (O'NET 98). By using this merged data set we hoped to examine in more detail the possible association between various occupational and job characteristics, and workers' current and past year use of alcohol and other drugs.

EMPLOYEES' OCCUPATIONAL JOB CHARACTERISTICS AND ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUG USE

Organizational actors define reality in terms of their own background and values (Hall, 1991) and occupational task characteristics have been found to be related to employees' psychological functioning in all aspects of life (Kohn & Schooler, 1973). In particular, the use of initiative, thought, and independent judgment, can be facilitated or restricted by one's work. Jobs that facilitate such self-direction may produce in employees a more positive reaction to themselves and society. Although characteristics and properties endemic to occupations and organizations may shape workers' alcohol and/or drug use behavior, explanations of alcohol abuse by workers rarely take into account the impact of the occupational setting (Trice & Sonnenstuhl, 1988). …