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Substance Abuse Trends Among U.S. Workforce

Doctor stacking wooden blocks representing growing substance abuse trends

Substance abuse has become a rising problem among the working class in America, increasing risk to employers and employees. This issue coincides with the mental health crisis and presents some slightly concerning trends. Let’s look at some of the contributing factors to substance abuse in the workplace and the implications these trends may have. 

Factors of Substance Abuse Among Workers

First, let’s quickly establish what is meant by “substance abuse.” In short, substance abuse is characterized by damaging patterns of use of any substance, be it legal or illegal. However, many characterize any use of an illicit substance as substance abuse, as possessing and using such is inherently damaging and risky.

Many factors contribute to substance abuse, including genetics, environment, and unique circumstances. Here are some factors that are on the rise:

1. Job Stress 

The U.S. job market is growing in complexity and diversity, with new industries frequently emerging. Over the past several years, the markets have also grown quite volatile. Workloads and responsibilities have largely increased while job security has seemingly decreased.

Inevitably, this has put more pressure on workers in all industries and has increased job stress compared to decades past. Unfortunately, where there is more stress, we usually find a higher rate of substance abuse.

Jobs in the service sector, such as mining and construction, have the highest rate of substance use on the job, while protective service jobs have the lowest. Studies indicate a relationship between stress and substance abuse; those with high-stress jobs indicate a higher rate of substance abuse and vice versa. 

Substance abuse in the workplace is not limited to manual labor jobs. Industries such as healthcare and education are presenting alarming trends as well. You can find more information on the impact of substance abuse by industry here.

2. Legalization of Marijuana 

Medical marijuana is legal in nearly all 50 states. However, as of 2023, only 23 states have legalized marijuana recreationally. With the legalization of marijuana, many studies show an increase in usage of marijuana in the workplace. Whether legal or illegal, abuse of the substance can cause significant impairment, which presents risk to employers.

Marijuana is ranked number two in most commonly abused substances, with 22% of surveyors reporting usage. The National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance reports an increase in marijuana use by 8.3% over the past five years, making it one of the highest increases in the United States. The reports indicate that this number will only increase as more states legalize recreational marijuana. 

As mentioned previously, substance abuse is not a respecter of substances. Whether alcohol, prescribed medication, or illegal substances, abuse can create significant damage when mingled with a work setting. However, the substance does influence how an employer can take action on suspicion and use. For more information on drug testing and marijuana specifically, here is a helpful resource

Effects of Substance Abuse

Below are three of the main effects of substance abuse within the workplace:

1. Decrease in performance 

The highest reported usage of substance abuse is alcohol, with 66% of people reporting having used this substance during work hours. The usage of alcohol has proven to be detrimental to employee performance. Alcohol is an inhibitor, making employees more susceptible to mood swings, reckless decisions, and workplace errors.

This decrease in employee performance ultimately leads to a reduction in company revenues. U.S. businesses lose a staggering $100 billion a year due to substance abuse.

2. Increase in Accident and Injury 

Service and maintenance sectors report the highest percentage of employees abusing substances on the job. In many cases, these jobs are also the most at risk for accidents and death. Across all industries, studies show that 65% of on-the-job accidents are reportedly due to drug and substance abuse. 

3. Decrease in Attendance

There is an approximation of 10 million Americans using substances on the job. Employees with substance abuse issues are proven to be less efficient overall– impacting attendance—employees who use drugs and alcohol on the job miss about 34.3 workdays a year. Simply put, companies cannot function at peak efficiency with absent employees.


Substance abuse among the U.S. workforce has proven to be a concerning (and growing) issue with many impactful consequences. We have also seen that substance abuse isn’t limited to any particular industry. It is becoming more prevalent across the board.

As a global drug screening authority, we offer solutions that help to combat these trends. Below are some helpful resources for employers who are looking to reduce the risks associated with substance use:

The ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ of Random Drug Testing

The Role of a Medical Review Officer (MRO) in Drug Testing

How Long Are Substances Detectable by a Drug Test?


For more information, contact us today.

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