Drug & Alcohol Abuse In The Service Industry

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on July 1, 2023

Compared to other workers, service industry workers face a higher risk of substance misuse and addiction. That’s because service jobs often involve large amounts of stress, irregular work hours, and drug-heavy work environments. The high rates of substance misuse can lead to health concerns among workers, workplace accidents, loss of productivity, and other issues.

Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of social status, wealth, or job. However, some job industries have higher rates of addiction than others. 

One industry rife with substance abuse is the service industry, especially a branch called the hospitality industry. Instead of physical products, people in this field provide services, such as food service, hotel accommodations, and tourism.

Rates Of Drug & Alcohol Addiction In The Service Industry

In 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) examined rates of drug abuse and addiction by industry

Drug Use & Addiction

Workers in the accommodations and food services industry reported the highest rates of past-month illicit drug use (19.1%) and past-year substance use disorder/drug addiction (16.9%). 

Alcohol Abuse

Service workers also reported the third-highest rate of heavy alcohol use (11.8%) after the mining industry (17.5%) and construction industry (16.5%).

In addition, a 2020 study found that 57% of food service workers drink alcohol every day and 38% use marijuana every day. 

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Binge-Drinking & Alcohol-Related Stats

Another study found that on average, young adult restaurant employees only consumed one to two alcoholic drinks per week. However, when they did drink, they often binge drank

About 32% of female workers consumed at least 4 drinks on one occasion, while almost half of male workers had at least 5 drinks on one occasion. 

The study also found that:

  • 70.9% of restaurant workers consumed alcohol at a hazardous level
  • 39.6% had experienced alcohol-related harm
  • 31.6% failed to remember events that occurred while they were drinking
  • 28.2% drove under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • 21.4% showed signs of alcohol dependence

Causes Of Substance Abuse In The Service Industry

Researchers have identified multiple causes of substance abuse among service industry workers, especially restaurant workers. These causes include:


Most service jobs are fast-paced and physically demanding. Even so, workers typically earn low wages and lack decision-making power. As a result, many of them develop chronic stress and self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs. This behavior often leads to addiction. 

To make matters worse, many service industry employers don’t offer health insurance benefits. In 2014, only 14.4% of restaurant workers received employer-sponsored health insurance, compared to 48.7% of other workers. 

This lack of insurance makes it harder for service workers to seek addiction treatment. 

Irregular Work Hours

People in the service industry typically work irregular hours, including late hours, night shifts, and “doubles” (a morning shift followed by a night shift). 

Some workers struggle to stay awake and alert for these shifts. To cope, they may use stimulant drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. 

These substances speed up your central nervous system, making you feel energized and focused. They pose a high risk of addiction. 

Drug-Heavy Work Culture

The service industry (particularly the restaurant industry) tends to tolerate drug and alcohol consumption much more than other industries. Because they have easy access to alcohol, restaurant workers and bartenders often drink before and after their shifts. 

They may also visit local bars that offer discounted alcohol to restaurant employees leaving late-night shifts.

Some restaurant workers also drink on the job, often without reprimand from managers. In fact, some kitchen managers allow bartenders and servers to take shots with guests. They may also let illegal drug use slide, even if the company officially forbids it. 

Effects Of  Drugs & Alcohol On Service Workers

Studies show that service workers who misuse drugs face serious risks, including:

  • health problems
  • driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
  • workplace accidents and injuries

Drug misuse among service workers also has consequences for the workplace as a whole, such as:

  • poor service
  • lack of team cohesion
  • increased work and stress for coworkers and managers
  • absenteeism
  • loss of productivity 
  • high turnover rates
  • increased hiring and training expenses

Also, in drug-heavy work environments, some employees may feel pressured to try drugs they would otherwise avoid. Similarly, service workers recovering from addiction face a higher risk of relapse when frequently exposed to drug use.

Reducing High-Rates Of Substance Misuse Among Service Workers

Employers and managers can take steps to reduce the high rates of substance misuse in the service industry. 

Reduce Access To Alcohol During Work Hours

First, restaurant businesses should stop giving employees shift drinks and easy access to alcohol before, during, and after work. They should also hold annual training programs that teach workers about substance misuse, including risks, prevention, and treatment options.

Establish Support Services

In addition, employers should establish support services for workers with addiction, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). 

These programs offer free, confidential assessments, short-term counseling, treatment referrals, and follow-up services for employees facing addiction or other personal issues. 

Increase Wages

Finally, service industry employers should consider increasing wages to reduce employee stress. They should also provide adequate health insurance benefits so workers with addiction can get the treatment they need. 

If you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer medical detox, behavioral therapy, and other addiction treatment options to help you or your loved one thrive. 

  1. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse — Dimensions of Problem Drinking among Young Adult Restaurant Workers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829730/
  2. Economic Policy Institute — Low Wages and Few Benefits Mean Many Restaurant Workers Can’t Make Ends Meet https://www.epi.org/publication/restaurant-workers/
  3. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research — Alcohol and Illicit Substance Use in the Food Service Industry: Assessing Self-Selection and Job-Related Risk Factors https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1096348010388640
  4. Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences — Health Behaviors in the Service Sector: Substance Use Among Restaurant Employees https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1382&context=jsbhs
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Substance Use And Substance Use Disorder By Industry https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_1959/ShortReport-1959.html

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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