Risks for Substance Abuse Linked to Occupations

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

Risks for Substance Abuse Linked to Occupations


Byline: BIRTH TO THREE By Jerry Gjesvold For The Register-Guard

If you had to guess, which occupation would you think has the highest percentage of people who abuse alcohol or other drugs?

You might think of high-pressure situations, such as air traffic controllers, CEOs or doctors. Maybe you'd imagine jobs involving stretches of routine broken up by bursts of stress, as with firefighters or police officers.

People who work with drugs all day, such as pharmacists or nurses, might come to mind, or professions with stereotypes that include hard drinking, such as newspaper reporters or sales executives.

While you'd be right that each of these professions has its share of substance abuse, you'd also be in for a surprise. Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, a nonprofit organization based at the George Washington University Medical Center, has released a report on the correlation between occupations and alcohol abuse.

Using the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers found that construction workers, with 135 problem drinkers per 1,000, topped the list. (The national average is 91.) Wholesale and retail workers were second and third.

Workers in leisure and hospitality occupations, business and repair services, and agriculture all topped 100 problem drinkers per 1,000 employees. But at 54 workers per 1,000, professionals were well below the average.

These results are interesting. While it is tempting to draw conclusions about cause and effect, we need to be careful. In a report issued in the late 1990s, DHHS observed that abuse could be prevalent in the demographic group most attracted to a certain occupation.

In other words, DHHS notes, young men without high school diplomas, a group that has a comparatively high rate of alcohol abuse, tend to choose certain kinds of work (entry-level construction jobs, for example). That drives up the percentage of workers in those occupations with a problem. …

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