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Facts about Substance Abuse and Safety and Health

Note: The following statistics should not be attributed to the U.S. Department of Labor, but rather their respective footnoted sources listed at the bottom of the page.

  • The majority of the nation’s illicit drug users are employed. Of the 16.4 million current illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2004, 12.3 million (75.2 percent) were working either full or part time. (Current illicit drug use means the use of an illicit drug at least once during the past month.)1
  • The majority of the nation’s binge and heavy drinkers work. Among 51.9 million adult binge drinkers in 2004, 41.2 million (79.3) percent were employed either full or part time. Similarly, 12.7 million (79.5 percent) of the 16 million adult heavy drinkers were employed. (Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on at least on occasion during the past month; heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.)2
  • Alcohol use and impairment in the workplace affects an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 19.2 million workers. Specifically, an estimated:
  • 2.3 million workers (1.8 percent of the workforce) have consumed alcohol at least once before arriving for work during the previous year;
  • 8.9 million (7.1 percent) have drunk alcohol at least once during the workday;
  • 2.1 million workers (1.7 percent of the workforce) have worked under the influence of alcohol; and
  • 11.6 million (9.2 percent of the workforce) have worked with a hangover.

Most workers who reported drinking during the workday said they did so during lunch breaks, though some actually drank while working or during other breaks. Workers on evening and night shifts and those working non-standard shifts with irregular or flexible hours more likely to report drinking before coming to work compared to those on traditional day shifts.3

  • Industries with the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse among workers are the same as those already at a high risk for occupational accidents and injuries, with construction and mining topping the list. This pattern may be partially explained by the higher concentration of males in these fields. Overall, rates of alcohol and drug abuse are higher among males than females. Broken down by age, rates are highest among young workers aged 18-25.4
  • An analysis of available toxicology reports conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed the presence of alcohol or other drugs, or both, in 19 percent of all work-related fatal injuries in 1998 for which such reports were available. Alcohol was the substance found most often, appearing in 48 percent of positive reports. Tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive agent in marijuana, was the second most common, appearing in 20 percent of positive test reports.5

1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Overview of Findings from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (published 2005).
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Overview of Findings from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (published 2005).
3 Frone, M.R. Prevalence and Distribution of Alcohol Use and Impairment in the Workplace: A U.S. National Survey. Journal of Studies on Alcohol (January 2006 issue).
4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Use, Dependence or Abuse Among Full-Time Workers (published 2002).
5 Weber, W. and Cox, C. Work-related Fatal Injuries in 1998. Compensation and Working Conditions (Spring 2001 issue).