Report: 10 million full-time workers abuse drugs, alcohol

WASHINGTON - Nearly one in 12 of U.S. full-time workers - more than 10 million people - have illicit drug or alcohol abuse problems serious enough to require treatment, according to a government report being released today.

The report found that 9.4 million illicit drug users and 10.1 million heavy drinkers have full-time jobs.

Construction workers, food service employees and people who work in mining and similar jobs head the list. Corporate CEOs have a problem, too: 7.9 percent describe being alcohol-dependent.

The report found that the rate of drug-abusing workers was lower in the South, 7.6 percent, than the national average of 8.2 percent. Likewise, the rate of Southern workers who were heavy drinkers was 8.5 percent, below the 8.8 percent national average.

"What this says is that there are a lot of us in the work force who are already in trouble," said Bob Stevenson, head of workplace programs of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, which is releasing the study.

The report says workers required to undergo drug testing - either as a condition of employment or in the workplace - were significantly less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

"I'll go ahead and say it: More and more employers are testing for drug and alcohol abuse, and if you are a small business owner and you don't have a drug-free-workplace program, you may become a magnet for a lot of illicit drug users looking for work," Stevenson said.

But he said employers also need to provide benefits such as education and treatment.

"We need to make a commitment to make these people whole and bring them back into the community," he added. "We can't afford to throw away people."

A division of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration agency will provide free consultations to employers on the availability of services necessary for drug-free workplaces.

The study, titled "Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs," is based on self-described experiences of a sample of U.S. workers for the years 2002-2004. It defines illicit drugs as marijuana or hashish, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants or prescription drugs used non-medically. Heavy alcohol use was defined as five or more drinks on five separate single occasions in the past 30 days.

It does not separate the results in ways that eliminate overlapping statistics for users of illicit drugs and alcohol abusers.

Authors state that in the surveys, 17.4 percent of food service workers and 15.1 percent of construction workers reported having used illicit drugs in the past 30 days. The lowest rate of illicit drug use was 3.4 percent among firemen, policemen and other protective service workers.

Construction workers and "extraction" industry employees reported the highest rates of alcohol abuse, 17.8 percent. Community workers and social service providers had the lowest rates, 2.8 percent. Percentage of workers abusing illicit drugs or alcohol:

Region Drugs Alcohol

Northeast 8.9 8.4

Midwest 8.0 10.6

South 7.6 8.5

West 8.8 7.8

National 8.2 8.8

Drug abuse by age:

18-64: 8.2 percent

18-25: 19 percent

26-34: 10.3 percent

35-49: 7.0 percent

50-64: 2.6 percent

By industry:

Food service: 17.4 percent (highest)

Construction: 15.1

Library workers: 4.1

Protective services: 3.4 percent (lowest)

Alcohol abuse by industry:

Construction and extraction: 17.8 percent (highest)

Installation, service and repair: 14.7

Community and social services, 2.8 percent (lowest)

Note: Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants or prescription drugs used non-medically. Heavy alcohol use is defined as five or more drinks on five separate single occasions in the past 30 days.

Source: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration