Workplace-related alcohol and drug abuse continues to plague many American industries, according to a recently published government report.

Heavy alcohol use among full-time workers in the U.S. aged 18 to 64 reached 17.5% in the mining industry and 16.5% in the construction industry, (the highest of any industries), data from 2008 through 2012 showed, according to a report recently issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The April 16, 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also found that the highest rates of past month illicit drug use during the same period — 19.1% — were found in the accommodations and food services industry. These same workers had the highest rates of past year substance use disorder (16.9%).

According to SAMHSA, heavy alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasions (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) or five or more days in the past 30 days. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, or prescription-type drugs used non-medically.

Overall, data for the 2008-2012 periods indicated that an annual average of 8.7% of full-time workers in the 18-64 age range used alcohol heavily in the past month, 8.6% used illicit drugs in the past month, and 9.5% were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.

Demographics play a role in the data. Prior research shows heavy alcohol use and illicit drug use are more common among males and younger workers (through age 34), than among females and older workers (age 35 and above). Industries with younger, predominantly male workers thus were found to have higher alcohol and drug use rates. However, researchers reported no discernible trend toward increased or decreased substance use in the data for this period compared to that for 2003 through 2007.

Citing the Office of National Drug Control Policy, SAMHSA observed: “substance use negatively affects U.S. industry through lost productivity, workplace accidents and injuries, employee absenteeism, low morale, and increased illness. U.S. companies lose billions of dollars a year because of employees’ alcohol and drug use and related problems.”

An effective substance abuse testing policy may help employers reduce the incidences of drug and alcohol abuse in their workplaces. For further information, please contact the Jackson Lewis Drug Testing and Substance Abuse Management Group.