Professions Most Susceptible to Substance Abuse
Both those at greater risk of developing a substance use disorder and those in recovery from substance abuse can benefit from knowing what professions are most susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. A majority of Americans spend the bulk of their time at work, after all. There, high levels of stress, a culture of heavy drinking and other environmental factors can pose major risks for someone with a genetic predisposition to addiction or for someone trying to maintain sobriety. This article provides an overview of jobs in which drug and alcohol abuse is more likely to occur.
Doctors, Nurses and Other Medical Professionals
Among professionals susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are some of the most vulnerable. Fifteen percent of surgeons abuse alcohol, according to one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. More recently, an article in USA Today concluded that, “across the country, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, medical technicians and other health professionals struggle with abuse or addiction.” That was after an investigation by USA Today found that roughly 100,000 medical professionals abuse drugs in a given year.
In a great number of these cases, prescription drugs—and in particular, narcotics like the opiate painkillers oxycodone and fentanyl—are the culprit, thanks to the ease with which drug diversion can occur in hospitals and other medical settings. (Physicians and their assistants enjoy easier access to these medications and knowledge about how they are prescribed.)
Medical service jobs can also be taxing, high-stress situations. Doctors trying to survive residency or nurses attempting long shifts, for example, may be more prone to abusing prescription drugs as a stress coping mechanism.
And stress, in general, is a well-known risk factor for addiction and substance abuse, as studies have shown. A study in 2008, conducted by researchers at Yale and published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, found a relationship between chronic stress, drug use and vulnerability to addiction. A more recent investigation into the link between stress and opiate addiction revealed that opiate users had experienced higher degrees of stress than those among the general population.
In the most extreme cases of drug diversion and substance abuse within the medical field, the consequences can be devastating for the wider public. According to the USA Today article, nearly 8,000 people in eight states needed hepatitis tests after just one hospital technician was caught self-injecting patients’ pain medicine and refilling the syringes with saline. 46 ended up infected with the virus.
Investment Bankers and Financial Services Industry
Addiction is also more prevalent in the financial services industry, presumably because of the often grueling, 100-hour work weeks and unpredictable turmoil of the stock markets.
An article in the Wall Street Journal went so far as to dub investment banking potentially “hazardous to your health.” The article cited a study at the University of Southern California in which a management professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business followed entry-level bankers fresh out of business school over the course of more than a decade, monitoring their physical and emotional health. What showed up were high rates of alcoholism and other potential signs and risk factors for substance abuse, including insomnia, heart palpitations, eating disorders and explosive temper issues. One vice president was quoted as saying he was so worried that others might notice his drinking problem that he would “keep losing half of what they are saying.”
“By the fourth year of the study, many bankers were a mess,” the study’s author, Dr. Alexander Michel, concluded. “Some were sleep-deprived; others developed addictions.”
By her own summary, every individual Dr. Michel observed developed a stress-related physical or emotional ailment within several years on the job.
Such findings seem to align with those reported elsewhere. One New York-based psychologist specializing in counseling Wall Street professionals conducted a study of 26 stockbrokers and found nearly one-quarter of them manifested clinical depression. (That rate is significantly higher than reported rates of clinical depression within the general U.S. population.) And co-occurring disorders like clinical depression are a well-established risk factor for drug and alcohol abuse.
Another New York City psychotherapist characterized the hidden lives of those who seek his help in terms of “compulsive drug use, heavy drinking, and rampant sex with prostitutes,” in an article for the investment research publication Think Advisor.
Today there are more than one million lawyers practicing in the United States—and if the results of a study recently published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine are an accurate indication, roughly one third of that population, or one in three lawyers, has a drinking problem. A similar proportion of lawyers (28 percent) suffer from depression. Nineteen percent show symptoms of anxiety.
The study, which was the first of its kind, anonymously interviewed 12,825 licensed, employed lawyers in 19 states around the country, who were asked to characterize their alcohol use and mental health. The questionnaire they were given defined “problem drinking” as “hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.”
These stats suggest lawyers suffer from alcoholism and alcohol abuse at a disproportionately greater rate than the general U.S. population. Less than 7 percent of Americans over 18 had alcohol use disorders, according to a study in 2014 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse.
The hospitality industry, comprising food services and hotel workers, suffers from the highest rates of illicit drug use (19.1 percent) and substance use disorders (16.9 percent) when compared to other industries, according to a national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Restaurant and hotel workers also showed high rates of heavy alcohol use (12 percent), defined as five or more drinks in one sitting across five or more days in the past month; in the category of drinking, they ranked third behind miners and construction workers.
A culture of heavy partying and entertaining is one explanation for the hospitality industry’s greater vulnerability to addiction. Other contributing factors may include the heavy stress of long hours, the rush of meal preparation, and the often hot, cramped working conditions of cooking in a kitchen, according to one article that investigated the subject.