Drug and Alcohol Use at Work: A Survey of Young Workers
Gleason, Philip M., Veum, Jonathan R., Pergamit, Michael R., Monthly Labor Review
Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth reveal that drug and alcohol use in the workplace is more common among men than women and among blue-collar than white-collar workers Philip M. Gleason is a former intern in the Office of Economic Research, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jonathan R. Veum and Michael R. Pergamit are economists in the same office.
The incidence of drug use on the job among U.S. workers aged 19 to 27 was 7.0 percent in 1984, according to data from the 1984 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. White men aged 19 to 23 reported the highest incidence of workplace drug use. Reported drug use is higher among men than women, among whites than minorities, and among workers aged 19 to 23 than those aged 24 to 27. Blue-collar workers have higher rates of drug use than white-collar workers. Also, drug use is most common among young workers in entertainment/recreation and construction industries, and least common among those in professional services and public administration industries. When each industry is classified by occupation, data show that transportation industry operatives have a relatively high rate of workplace drug use. This is notable in light of recent tragic accidents in the transportation industry attributed to the use of drugs.
Drug and alcohol use in the workplace has been a particular concern to employers and consumers who fear that workers who engage in this type of activity on the job are less productive, more likely to steal, and more likely to cause accidents than workers who do not use drugs or drink on the job. For these reasons, drug use in the workplace cost employers an estimated $16.4 billion in 1981.(1)
In response to this problem, a large number of firms have developed Employee Assistance Programs which attempt to identify and provide treatment to workers with drug and alcohol problems. These programs have become more prevalent; the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 1988, 30 percent of all workers had access to Employee Assistance Programs. Also, approximately 20 percent of all workers were employed by firms which had drug testing policies.(2)
Despite the severity of the problem and the growing concern among employers and society about the adverse consequences of drug use, there has been little research dealing with work-related drug use, primarily because very few data sets provide information on both an individual's drug usage and work activity. Some research identifies drug users by job category, but to date, there have been no studies examining drug use in the workplace.(3)
The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth is an ongoing study of the labor market experiences of individuals born between 1957 and 1964 and contains an overrepresentation of blacks, Hispanics, and economically disadvantaged whites.(4) Sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this survey has been conducted annually since 1979.(5) The original sample size was 12,686; in the 1984 survey, 12,069 persons were still being interviewed.
For the first time, the 1984 youth survey asked participants if they had used drugs or felt high during work or break time within the past year. The specific drugs mentioned included marijuana, hashish, nonprescription amphetamines, stimulants, nonprescription barbiturates, sedatives or tranquilizers, psychedelics, cocaine, heroin or other narcotics, and inhalants. Questions about alcohol use were included in each survey from 1982 through 1985.(6) participants were asked whether drinking has ever interfered with their work on a job, as well as specific questions about the effects of alcohol on their work behavior.
This article, based on the unique data on drug use available from the 1984 youth survey, describes patterns of drug and alcohol use among young workers.(7) The rates of workplace drug use among these workers in different age, sex, and race groups as well as in different industry and occupational classifications are also examined. …