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December 5, 2017

Construction Workers and Addiction: More workers with substance use disorders than any other profession

From 2008 to 2012, the construction industry had the second highest rate of heavy alcohol use among full-time workers, and it had the substance use disorder. It had the fifth highest rate of illicit drug use, according to a 2015 analysis of a national survey.

The industry employs a wide range of occupations, including laborers, carpenters, stonemasons, painters, roofers, steel workers, electricians, drillers, inspectors and construction managers. Employers include small mom and pop operations and multimillion-dollar businesses.

The diversity among types of workers and employers complicates prevention and intervention solutions. A single approach may not work for every employer or worker. Thus, it’s important to determine why a construction worker uses alcohol or other drugs and how severe the substance use is.

Threats of termination may prevent recreational drug use, but they won’t help employees with substance use disorders get the help they need.

Rates of Substance Abuse in the Construction Industry

The construction industry employed more than 10.3 million people in the United States in 2016. Because construction is one of the biggest industries in the country, it makes sense that it has more employees with substance use disorders than other professions.


Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

But the hospitality industry employs almost 4 million more people than construction. Manufacturing employs 5 million more people. The wholesale and retail industry employs twice as many people as construction.

Yet the construction industry employed more workers with substance use disorders than every industry besides accommodations and food services, according to a 2015 study that combined data from 2008 to 2012.

Among full-time construction workers:

  • 16.5 percent (1.6 million people) drank heavily in the past month
  • 11.6 percent (1.1 million people) used illicit drugs in the past month
  • 14.3 percent (1.4 million people) were addicted to alcohol or other drugs

The numbers are worrisome for a profession that relies so heavily on focus, coordination and judgment. Most people in the industry work at hazardous job sites where inebriation or a hangover can lead to dire consequences.

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