Substance Abuse in the Restaurant Industry
Last Updated on March 11, 2021
Did you know that 8.7 percent of full-time workers ages 18 to 64 used alcohol heavily in the past month? And 8.6 percent used illicit drugs in the past month? More than nine percent of workers in the U.S. have a substance use problem and a majority of them are working in the restaurant and hospitality industry.1 Although there are many people who work in food service who do not abuse illicit drugs or alcohol, substance abuse among employees is still commonplace in many restaurants and bars.
Substance Abuse In the Food Service Industry
According to results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 16.9 percent of employees in the accommodations and food services industry are suffering from a substance use disorder. The survey also revealed that workers in the food service industry had the highest rates of monthly drug abuse, with 19.1 percent of full-time workers abusing illegal drugs on a monthly basis.2
Despite all the substance abuse problems, results from a recent survey released by George Mason University show that many restaurant workers may lack an awareness of what is considered substance abuse. The anonymous online survey asked 93 full-time restaurant and bar employees over the age of 18 about their alcohol or illicit drug use.
- Only 18 percent of the survey respondents said they had a problem with illicit drugs or alcohol abuse.3
- 28 percent weren’t sure if they had a substance use problem.3
- 53 percent said they knew someone at work with a substance abuse problem.3
The truth is, whether it’s taking more Adderall or Vyvanse than prescribed, using antidepressant drugs like Prozac or Zoloft as a quick fix for life problems, or getting drunk every night after work, any amount of prescription drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or illegal drug abuse can cause problems in the workplace.
The substance use problems in the restaurant and hospitality industry are especially concerning because the restaurant sector is the second-largest private-sector employer in the nation. In fact, restaurant jobs are expected to outnumber even manufacturing jobs soon.4
Contributing Factors of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Restaurants
It’s clear that employees in the restaurant and hospitality industry are more likely than others to have substance use problems, but why is this? According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, there are several contributing factors that may increase a food service employee’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.5
- High-stress environment – Employees who work in a high-stress environment are more likely to rely on drugs and alcohol to cope. Restaurants and bars are frequently understaffed and faced with high demands from patrons. Not to mention, high performance in the food industry often requires extremely fast service, very few mistakes, and a large amount of face-to-face interaction with customers. These are all things that can drive up the stress level in the workplace very quickly.
- Social norms – The restaurant industry has developed a culture of its own in which employees have higher rates of alcohol use.5 Even at fast food restaurants where no alcohol is served or in corporate establishments with strict rules against drinking on the job, many workers still report high rates of alcohol use which may occur before a shift starts, on break, or immediately afterward.
- Long and irregular hours – Many employees in the hospitality and restaurant sector work irregular hours, leaving them wide awake when most others have already gone to bed. Many employees may choose to go out with coworkers after hours, which frequently results in alcohol and/or drug use, especially if the staff is younger in age (which many restaurant workers are).
- Low wages – Many food service jobs pay low wages yet they demand long work hours, which can contribute to employees’ stress and anxiety both on and off the job. Some of these employees may turn to drug and alcohol abuse to cope.
- Younger employees – Young adults tend to consume more alcohol than the general population and many restaurant and hospitality workers are younger in age. This may contribute to the higher rate of substance abuse in the industry overall.
- Proximity to alcohol during shifts – One article published in the New York Times argues that restaurant work breeds addiction, with long hours, few meal breaks, and easy access to alcoholic beverages.6 For many employees, especially bartenders, it may be difficult to stay sober while sampling cocktails all night or being surrounded by alcohol on a consistent basis. This type of work environment may be especially challenging for a person who has suffered from previous substance abuse problems or who has previously completed a drug and alcohol rehab program and is in recovery.
Consequences of Substance Abuse in the Workplace
Substance abuse in the workplace has severe consequences, whether it’s a restaurant, a hotel, a food service contractor, or some other eating establishment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), substance use contributes to:2
- Lost productivity
- Workplace accidents and injuries
- Employee absenteeism
- Low employee morale
- Increased illness
- Increased employee turnover
Employee alcohol and drug use also cost U.S. companies billions of dollars each year.
Drug Rehab for Addicted Employees in the Restaurant Industry
Despite the amount of drug and alcohol abuse that goes on in the restaurant industry, there are limited resources to help employees recover from addiction. Although more than 97 percent of large companies and 75 to 80 percent of medium-sized and smaller companies in America provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to their employees, only about 23 percent of companies in the food service industry offers EAP assistance.7 This leaves a gaping hole in an industry where the life-changing benefits of EAPs are needed most.
Additionally, many individuals cannot get the addiction help they need because recovery resources are not affordable or groups are facilitated during a time when they are typically at work.
If you or a loved one is employed in the hospitality or food service industry and are struggling with addition, it’s important for you to know that there are affordable ways to get help. At Nova Recovery Center, we regularly work with EAP representatives to get clients the treatment they need to fully recover from their addiction and function successfully at home and at work. Even if your employer does not offer EAP services, Nova Recovery Center offers several other payment options for long-term inpatient or outpatient drug rehab so you can get the help you need.
Full recovery is achievable. Contact Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our long-term drug and alcohol rehab programs for men and women.