How Work Stress Can Lead to a Substance Abuse Problem

How Work Stress Can Lead to a Substance Abuse Problem


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Unless you’re a part of the fortunate minority of the world’s workforce who is immune to work stress, regular employment represents a major source of anxiety and it sometimes feels like work can’t always be left at the office at the end of the day. Even if you love your job, it’s bound to stress you out at some point. 

Given the time requirements of most full-time positions, people will always look for ways to relieve the stress applied by the seemingly constant demands of regular employment. Many will find healthy outlets such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends and family. 

Stress Sometimes Goes Unnoticed or Cause Denial

Others might either feel like they are doing well until some of the big problems hit like the end of a gradual burnout or sudden additional stress. A huge cause of stress is suffering from a mental health disorder that is no longer under proper management or is being ignored.  

Unfortunately, some stressful events like burnout have a ‘honeymoon’ phase in which everything seems to be going better than normal. Unfortunately, this leads to greater and greater stress down the line as the problem develops. 

It is important to listen to your loved ones and others who care about you not only when they tell you that your substance abuse has gotten out of hand but when they are telling you that you seem to have developed an unhealthy relationship with your work. Burnout can sometimes take months to develop fully.

Some of the most common mental health conditions include: 

Oftentimes, a mental illness that occurs simultaneously with addiction (dual diagnosis) is often left undiagnosed and untreated. However, getting an accurate diagnosis will not completely stop these powerful conditions from rearing their ugly head. Symptoms of mental illness are sometimes unpredictable causing irrational thoughts and behaviors, which especially in the workplace and social situations can cause major problems.

For example, people who have bipolar disorder, the common mood swings may cause your career to nosedive as episodes can come on with little to no warning. Substance abuse exacerbates mental illness and causes other health complications. 

Confronting a loved one that is suffering from substance abuse can be really stressful. Denial that there is even a problem is very common. It is very important to educate yourself and recognize the warning signs of drug and alcohol use, so this hard conversation can be had in a more professional capacity instead of appearing accusatory, and more helpful.

Drugs At or After Work

When alcohol or drug consumption becomes the default response to work stress, it sets a dangerous precedent. Whether an individual uses cocaine or prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin to help them focus or use alcohol or prescription opioids to help them unwind at the end of the day, using a substance as a crutch is a cause for concern. People’s relationships with substances will vary based on their work environment and personal preferences but the outcome remains the same.

Any Job Can Be Stressful

Anyone can experience stress in the workplace, you do not have to have a job that people would traditionally consider stressful to do so. For example, some jobs, such as retail, often lead to extreme stress if they have unsupportive management, work in a field where customers tend to be unreasonably demanding, they don’t see a way to advance their career, or are afraid to try to work their way up fearing it might put their ability to provide for their family in danger. 

Sometimes it seems like you can’t turn to anyone with your problems. You might be afraid of burdening people, including worrying about your family or other loved ones who are already under stress. 

You might be the sole caretaker of children and you want to put on a brave face for them. Or, you might simply not want to be associated with “weakness” and feel like getting help from others is somehow making you less of a person. Know that these are common thought patterns that people with addiction have.  

Any Addiction Disorder Can Lead to Stress

If you do not get help for an active addiction as well as other stress you might lose your job and bring about more stress. Some of the problems an untreated active addiction disorder can cause are:

Absenteeism

The natural progression of drinking or doing drugs at work leads to doing the same at home so why even come into work when personal, sick and vacation days are available to you?

Increased Healthcare Costs

Myriad negative health effects are inherent to alcohol or drug abuse, and if your employees have health insurance through their employment, your rates will inevitably arise.

Injuries/deaths

Being drunk or high at work is far from conducive to maintaining safe work practices. In certain industries, this can lead to accidents and increased workers’ compensation costs, which don’t just affect the offending individual(s) but their sober co-workers as well.

Legal liabilities

Substance use at work can lead to costly mistakes with clients and possibly to legal repercussions.

Lost productivity

Whether the cause is hangovers from the previous night or employees getting drunk or high during work hours, job responsibilities take on a lower priority in the event of substance use.

Low Employee Morale

When workers can’t depend on each other because certain employees are depending on alcohol or drugs instead, the displaced stress can fall on the shoulders of others, significantly affecting morale.

Theft

One of the key effects of any substance is reduced inhibitions. That may be all it takes to turn wanting an item at the workplace into attempting to take it home.

Stressful Jobs Encourage Substance Abuse

Working in certain industries can encourage alcohol or drug abuse. For some company cultures, it may have become a major part of their company culture. It might seem like you have to abuse substances to be accepted as well as continuing to be as productive as you think that you can be. 

For instance, some jobs in the banking and financial industry are associated with systemic cocaine and amphetamine abuse simply as a means to survive the grueling hours. Other industries such as food service, construction, and other blue-collar fields are linked with alcohol abuse. 

Alcohol abuse could seem like it would be less dangerous than abuse of other substances. This is not true for many people. Like a corporate culture where abusing substances like cocaine, it could be accepted among blue-collar workers to go out and heavily drink with their coworkers.

People may think that using substances to cope with work-related stress will address their problems, but in reality, it opens individuals up to a wide variety of other complications, mentally, physically, and socially.

Unintended Consequences of Work Stress and Substance Abuse

You might feel like your substance abuse is under control and you do not need help. This is called denial. A big part of getting on your road to recovery and reconnecting with your loved ones, learning how to keep the stress of your job healthily managed, and having a more fulfilling life is overcoming your denial. A big part of the start of your recovery journey is being able to admit to yourself that your substance abuse is a problem and that you need help. 

Abuse of Substances Can Cause Physical Danger

Pie chart showing that nearly a quarter of employees surveyed reported drinking at work at least once in the last year. Employees that abuse alcohol are 2.7 times more likely to miss work due to an injury caused by drinking

Alcohol is involved in 16 percent of emergency room visits caused by a work injury

  • 11 percent of the victims of deaths at the workplace had been drinking at the time
  • 24 percent of employees reported that they drank during the workday at least once in the last year
  • About 20 percent of employees across a wide variety of industries said that a co-worker’s drinking either at work or at home had put their own safety or productivity in danger
  • People that have had three or more jobs in the past five years are approximately twice as likely to have used drugs in the previous two years than those who have only held two or fewer jobs
  • Out of the estimated 14.8 million people who use illicit substances, 70 percent of them are employed.

Substance Abuse Problems Cannot Be “Muscled Through”

It is important to not let your job be your be-all, end-all, and all-consuming identity. The rewards at work can be great. Recognition, more pay, better office, possible advancement to a job that you consider more desirable, the ability or the promise of the ability to fully take care of your needs, and the needs of your loved ones independent of outside support. You need to take time for yourself. Even if your career is still very important to you, it is not worth compromising your overall health. 

There Are Other Ways to Accomplish Things Than Traditional Work

Paying into a child’s college fund? Paying medical bills? Contributing to a cause that is near and dear to your heart? Or simply trying to establish yourself in a way that helps you feel financially secure. There are non-work-related ways to do these things that allow you to fulfill those goals. 

Help your loved one find scholarships to apply to, work on preventative and continuing care for your loved one such as helping them do their physical therapy stretches that could help them not need as much time in the hospital if recommended by the doctor, and start up your own diverse savings and investment plan independent of your company benefits. 

Some trading companies can set you up with a preformed plan that can help you avoid the stress of building your future without the cost of a professional financial manager if you do not want one. Sometimes contributing to something you care about can be as simple as raising awareness of your cause and helping others get the resources they need or directing them to someone who can. 

Some of the Ways to Avoid Substances in the Workplace

Avoiding substances, particularly at the workplace, can often be as easy as making the decision to take care of your body and mind. There are plenty of healthy ways to reduce work stress such as running, lifting, yoga, meditation, or spending time with friends or loved ones. 

Everyone has a passion or two and once you determine what yours are, it can become a renewable source of happiness entirely distinct from using substances. If you or someone you know is using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress from work, Unity Behavioral Health can help. 

We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic Port St. Lucie, FL, specializing in drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, and dual diagnosis. Contact us today when you’re ready to learn more.

References 

https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/addiction-update/drugs-and-alcohol-in-the-workplace

https://news.efinancialcareers.com/us-en/214585/the-30-something-bankers-are-not-alright/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655771/