Drug abuse -- including and especially alcohol abuse -- costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars in lost productivity each year. New government data released this month can now tell us exactly which industries' employees drink the most, which do the most drugs, and where employees are most likely not just to use drugs, but abuse them. Here's how the numbers break down:
Mining is tough work and dangerous, so it may not be surprising that miners are the hardest drinkers in the federal survey -- nothing like spending the day deep underground surrounded by tons of rock to make you crave a cold one when you get home. Eighteen percent of miners are "heavy drinkers," defined here as "drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on 5 or more days in the past 30 days." They're followed by construction workers at 17 percent, and hotel and restaurant workers at 12 percent.
When it comes to drug use, on the other hand, those hotel and restaurant workers are the heaviest users, hands down: 19 percent of them used an illicit drug in the past month. They're followed by arts and entertainment workers at 14 percent and, perhaps surprisingly, managers at 12 percent.
You might take some comfort knowing that your kids' school teachers are among the least likely to be heavy drinkers or drug users: only 5 percent of educators drink heavily, and a similar proportion report regular drug use. And in what will certainly come as a shock to anyone who's observed Congress in recent years, public administrators -- e.g., government employees -- are the group least likely to use illicit drugs.
Much of this variation isn't necessarily a direct function of the nature of the work in these industries, but rather of the types of people who work in them. For instance, we know that men drink and do drugs more heavily than women, and that young people are more into drugs and alcohol than older ones. So if an industry is dominated by young or male workers, it stands to reason that you'll see higher rates of drinking and drug use in that industry.
For instance, the researchers write that one reason miners drink so much is that miners tend to be young and male. Construction workers, on the other hand, showed abnormally high heavy drinking rates even after controlling for age and gender. If some of that alcohol use is spilling over on to the job it could be a problem, given the potentially dangerous nature of that work.
However, the researchers found no difference in the distribution of drug use across the industries even when controlling for age and gender. Whether young or old, male or female, restaurant and hotel workers are the heaviest drug users in the nation.
There's something of a false equivalence going on in these two categories, drug use and heavy drinking. The researchers didn't break the numbers down by specific drug, but given that marijuana is the most widely-used illicit substance, it's a safe bet that many people would show up in the "drug use" category simply if they smoked a joint or two in the 30 days prior to the survey. This is, unequivocally, much less harmful or risky behavior than drinking heavily over that same time period.
But the study did separately break out workers who would qualify as having a substance abuse disorder for either drugs or alcohol. To meet that criteria, your substance use would either need to interfere with your ability to do work, or cause you legal trouble or interpersonal problems, or otherwise put you in danger. And again, hotel and restaurant workers show the highest rate of past-year substance abuse problems, followed by construction workers and employees in the arts and entertainment industry. Managers also make a relatively strong showing in this category.
Below I've plotted the prevalence of substance use disorder against the relative odds of heavy drinking or drug use for all the industries, as a way of tying it all together.
Miners and construction workers have a strong preference for alcohol, while hotel and restaurant employees generally prefer drugs to heavy drinking. The differences aren't huge in other industries.