Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace. Photos representing the workforce - Digital Imagery© copyright 2001 PhotoDisc, Inc.

General Workplace Impact

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.

Substance Use and Abuse in America in 2007

  • In 2007, an estimated 19.9 million Americans were current illicit drug users. The rate of current illicit drug use among Americans has remained stable since 2002, hovering around 8 percent.1
  • Nearly 58 million people, or more than one-fifth (23.3 percent) of the population age 12 and over, participated in binge drinking (having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days). About 17 million people or 6.9 percent of the population age 12 and over, reported heavy drinking (defined as binge drinking on at least 5 of the past 30 days).2
  • Among youth ages 12-17, current illicit drug use steadily declined in recent years (down from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in 2007). Moreover, the rate of binge drinking among youth ages 12-17 decreased from 10.3 percent in 2006 to 9.7 percent in 2007.3
  • However, among adults ages 50-59, current illicit drug use increased from 2.7 percent to 5.0 percent between 2002 and 2007, as the baby boom cohort continued to enter this age bracket.4
  • In 2007, an estimated 22.3 million persons (9.0 percent of the population age 12 and over) were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year. Of these, 15.5 million abused or were dependent on alcohol, 3.7 million abused or were dependent on illicit drugs, and 3.2 million abused or were dependent on both alcohol and illicit drugs.5

Substance Use and Abuse among Workers in 2007

Substance use and abuse is a concern for employers. Most drug users, binge and heavy drinkers, and people with substance use disorders are employed.

  • In 2007, of the 17.4 million current illicit drug users age 18 and over, 13.1 million (75.3 percent) were employed.6
  • Similarly, among 55.3 million adult binge drinkers, 44.0 million (79.4 percent) were employed, and among 16.4 million persons reporting heavy alcohol use, 13.1 million (79.6 percent) were employed.7
  • Of the 20.4 million adults classified with substance dependence or abuse, 12.3 million (60.4 percent) were employed full-time.8

The prevalence of substance use among workers is lower than the prevalence among the unemployed, but a sizeable number of employed individuals use drugs and alcohol.

  • In 2007, 8.4 percent of those employed full-time were current illicit drug users, and 8.8 percent reported heavy alcohol use.9

Substance Use Disorder - Worker Age May be a Factor

  • According to 2002-2004 data, among full-time employed persons diagnosed with a substance use disorder, those ages 18-25 had the highest rates of substance use disorder relative to those in other age categories.10 Findings for 2005-2007 have not been published as of mid-October in 2008.
  • Illicit drug use for the ages 18-25 group (not accounting for employment) has remained relatively stable from 2004 (19.4 million) to 2007 (19.7 million) while specific rates of use dropped significantly from 2006 to 2007 for several drugs: methamphetamine use fell 33% from 0.6% to 0.4%, ecstasy use fell 30% from 1% to 0.7%, stimulant use fell 21% from 1.4% to 1.1%, and cocaine use fell by 23% from 2.2% to 1.7%. Declining rates of use for methamphetamine and cocaine have been noted in the workplace, with drug test positives for methamphetamine declining 50% since 2005 and cocaine dropping 19 percent in 2007 to the lowest levels in the history of this testing system. At the same time that these positive indicators are noted among the age 18-25 group, the rate of nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers rose 12% to 4.6% in 2007. In the ages 50-59 group (not accounting for employment), illicit drug use has grown substantially from 2004 (3.8 percent) to 2007 (5.0 percent).11

Substance Use and Abuse in Particular Industries

Employers in certain industries may be more at risk for employee substance use and abuse.

  • The major industry groups with the highest prevalence of illicit drug use in the past month were accommodations and food services and construction, and those with the lowest prevalence were the utilities industry, educational services, and public administration.12
  • About 16.9 percent of workers in the accommodations and food services industry and 13.7 percent of workers in the construction industry reported illicit drug use in the past month.13
  • About 3.8 percent of workers in the utilities industry, 4.0 percent of workers in the educational services industry, and 4.1 percent of workers in the public administration industry reported past month illicit drug use.14
  • The major industry groups with the highest prevalence of heavy alcohol use were construction, arts, entertainment and recreation, and mining, and those with the lowest were health care and social assistance and educational services.
  • About 15.9 percent of workers in the construction industry and 13.6 percent of workers in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.
  • In contrast, 4.0 percent of workers in the educational services industry and 4.3 percent of workers in the health care and social assistance industry reported heavy alcohol use.
  • Likewise, workers in certain occupations may be more at risk for problems with substance use and abuse.
  • Workers in food service and construction occupations showed a higher prevalence of illicit drug use during the past month than other occupational groups, while those in protective service, community and social services, and education and related services occupations showed the lowest prevalence rates.15
  • About 17.4 percent of food service workers and 15.1 percent of construction workers used illicit drugs in the past month.16
  • About 3.4 percent of protective service workers, 4.0 percent of community and social services workers, and 4.1 percent of education, training, and library workers used illicit drugs in the past month.17
  • Construction occupations and installation, maintenance, and repair occupations showed higher prevalence of heavy alcohol use in the past month, while community and social services occupations showed the lowest prevalence rates.18
  • About 17.8 percent of construction and extraction workers and 14.7 percent of installation, maintenance, and repair workers reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.19
  • In contrast, 2.8 percent of community and social services workers reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.20

America’s Workplaces at Risk

Substance use and abuse is not necessarily limited to after work hours, leading to the risk of impairment on the job.

  • An estimated 3.1 percent of employed adults actually used illicit drugs before reporting to work or during work hours at least once in the past year, with about 2.9 percent working while under the influence of an illicit drug.21
  • An estimated 1.8 percent of employed adults consumed alcohol before coming to work, and 7.1 percent drank alcohol during the workday.22
  • An estimated 1.7 percent of employed adults worked while under the influence of alcohol, and 9.2 percent worked with a hangover in the past year.23

Regardless of where illicit drug use or heavy alcohol use takes place, workers reporting substance use and abuse have higher rates of turnover and absenteeism.

  • Workers reporting heavy alcohol use or illicit drug use, as well as workers reporting dependence on or abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs, are more likely to have worked for more than three employers in the past year.24
  • Likewise, those workers are more likely to have skipped work more than two days in the past month.25
  • Workers reporting illicit drug use or dependence on or abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs were also more likely to have missed more than two days of work due to illness or injury.26

Furthermore, the impact of employee substance use and abuse is a problem that extends beyond the substance-using employee. There is evidence that co-worker job performance and attitudes are negatively affected.27 Workers have reported being put in danger, having been injured, or having had to work harder, to re-do work, or to cover for a co-worker as a result of a fellow employee’s drinking.28

Small Businesses Most Vulnerable

Smaller firms may be particularly disadvantaged by worker substance use and abuse. For example, while about half of all U.S. workers work for small and medium sized businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees)29, about nine in ten employed current illicit drug users and almost nine in ten employed heavy drinkers work for small and medium sized firms.30 Likewise, about nine in ten full-time workers with alcohol or illicit drug dependence or abuse work for small and medium size firms.31 However, smaller firms are generally less likely to test for substance use.32

Smaller businesses are less likely to have programs in place to combat the problem, yet they are more likely to be the employer-of-choice for illicit drug users. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy seek employment at firms that don’t have one, and the cost of just one error caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small company.

Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace

The good news is that there are steps businesses can take to minimize the risks of worker alcohol use, and there are resources to help them do so. The U.S. Department of Labor can help employers develop drug-free workplace programs that educate employees about the dangers of alcohol and encourage those with alcohol problems to seek help.

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Endnotes:
1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies (2008). Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343). Rockville, MD.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). "Substance Use Disorder and Serious Psychological Distress, by Employment Status” The NSDUH Report Issue 38.
11Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies (2008). Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 08-4343). Rockville, MD.
12Larson, S.L., Eyerman, J., Foster, M.S., and Gfroerer, J.C. (2007). Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs (DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4273, Analytic Series A-29). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies.
13 Ibid.
14Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Frone, M. R. (2006). Prevalence and distribution of illicit drug use in the workforce and in the workplace: Findings and implications from a U.S. national survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 856-869.
22 Frone, M. R. (2006). Prevalence and distribution of alcohol use and impairment in the workplace: A U.S. national survey. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 76, 147-156.
23 Ibid.
24 Larson, S.L., Eyerman, J., Foster, M.S., and Gfroerer, J.C. (2007). Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs (DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4273, Analytic Series A-29). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Lehman, W. E. K., Farabee, D. J., & Bennett, J. B. (1998). Perceptions and correlates of co-worker substance use. Employee Assistance Quarterly, 13(4), 1-22.
28 Mangione, T.W., et al. (1998). New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study. Boston, MA: JSI Research and Training Institute.
29 Statistics of U.S. Businesses, 2005, U.S. Census Bureau, available at http://www.census.gov/csd/susb/index.html
30 Larson, S.L., Eyerman, J., Foster, M.S., and Gfroerer, J.C. (2007). Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs (DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4273, Analytic Series A-29). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid.