List Of The 12 Most Commonly Abused Drugs In The Workplace

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Commonly abused drugs in the workplace include a range of illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol. Workplace drug abuse can affect the individual, their employer, and the work environment in a number of ways.

Commonly Abused Drugs In The Workplace

Drug and alcohol use is believed to be present to some degree in all industries, with some employees either abusing substances at work or before arriving at work.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the type of drug use and amount of abuse varies across industries.

The following types of substance abuse are common among all industries in the United States.

1. Alcohol

In the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted from 2008 to 2012 by SAMHSA, researchers found that heavy alcohol use was prevalent in all industries with full-time employees in the U.S.

The rate of alcohol use varied by industry. The mining industry had the highest at 17.5 percent, while the healthcare industry had the lowest, at 4.4 percent.

Alcohol use can affect a person on a number of levels, including effects on employment.

Some effects of alcohol use disorder include:

  • effects on memory
  • slowed thinking
  • slowed motor functions
  • high blood pressure
  • increased risk of stroke
  • increased risk of numerous types of cancer

2. Marijuana

Marijuana is legal for sale, possession, and use in many states. Marijuana and cannabis products have both stimulant and depressant properties.

While marijuana is shown to have no life-threatening effects and no severe effects on behavior, marijuana is still illegal in most workplaces. This means using it while at work is considered substance abuse.

3. Prescription Drugs

Some industries, like the health care and dental industries, have access to a number of different types of prescription drugs, including benzodiazepines, opiates, and more.

These and other prescription medications can be addictive and result in drug addiction or chemical dependency, ultimately making it hard to quit the use of the drug.

Abusing benzos or opioids, both of which have depressant, sedative-like effects, can cause drowsiness, slowed reaction times, and lowered inhibition.

This in turn can affect your decision-making ability and other important critical thinking processes you may need while on the job.

4. Heroin

Heroin is an opioid narcotic which is highly addictive with just a few uses. Many people begin using heroin after developing an addiction to prescription opioids, like oxycodone (OxyContin).

Once a person develops an opioid drug addiction, it can be very hard to quit the use of the drugs due to withdrawal symptoms.

Consequently, people with a heroin addiction may continue using it even while at work or right before or after work to stem withdrawal syndrome.

5. Cocaine

Cocaine is an upper, or stimulant drug, that produces feelings of high energy, elation, and motivation. This makes it an easy target for abuse in the workplace.

People in high-stress jobs who need to remain alert for many hours or days on end may feel they need a boost and abuse cocaine as a result.

Yet cocaine use disorder increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, other heart-related issues, and can lead to behavioral issues as well.

6. Methamphetamine (Meth)

Meth is another stimulant, but its effects can quickly lead to negative reactions in the user. This includes violent, hostile, and unpredictable behavior that poses a threat to those around the person using meth.

People who use meth may go on binges where they use it consecutively for several days in a row, with very little sleep, food, or other basic necessities.

Meth is also highly addictive. The long-term effects of meth can last for years, making it a dangerous drug to abuse in the workplace or anywhere else.

7. MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)

Molly is a stimulant/hypnotic drug traditionally used in club and party settings. Abusing molly can lead to hallucinations, a heightened sense of well-being, and euphoria.

MDMA is not known to be highly addictive, but it can increase a person’s body temperature to dangerous levels, lead to severe dehydration, and result in other adverse effects.

8. Amphetamine

Though amphetamine (Adzenys, Evekeo) is another prescription drug, it is listed separately because of the high prevalence of abuse among young adults.

Amphetamines are commonly used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But those who do not have the disorder and take amphetamines can experience an increased sense of energy and alertness.

Like other stimulants, abuse of amphetamines can lead to negative effects on health and drug addiction.

9. Hallucinogens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists hallucinogens as one of the top substances of abuse in the United States. This drug category includes drugs like ketamine (K2/Spice) and phencyclidine (PCP).

Hallucinogens can cause hallucinations, or hearing and seeing things that aren’t there, which can be a disruption to the workplace and harmful to the individual.

10. Over-The-Counter Medications

People may abuse over-the-counter (OTC) medications for a number of reasons.

One of the most common drugs of abuse people can easily get over the counter is cough syrup or cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM). DXM-containing products can result in depressant or hallucinogenic effects in large doses.

11. Nicotine

While nicotine is not always viewed as a dangerous threat in comparison to illicit drugs, it remains one of the most-used substances, and the effects of nicotine are as dangerous as ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), use of tobacco and other nicotine-containing products are still at high rates.

In fact, rates are high enough that many employers have begun offering non-smoking discount rates during insurance open enrollments and other incentive programs.

The mining industry has the highest rates of nicotine use at 30 percent, and the construction industry has the lowest at 7.9 percent.

12. Caffeinated Products

Caffeine is a useful product in boosting energy levels and jumpstarting a person’s digestive system for the day.

However, overuse of caffeine can have a number of work-related effects. According to the CDC, caffeine has a long-half life. This means that, even though the initial effects may wear off quickly, the substance remains in your system for a long time.

In turn, this can affect your ability to sleep or your sleep quality — which cannot be replaced by any amount of caffeine.

Caffeine is commonly used in high doses by employees in industries who need to remain alert for long periods of time or work night shifts, such as first responders and the military.

Consequences Of Drug Use In The Workplace

Drug abuse can affect you in a number of ways, not the least of which is effects on your job.

The nature of drugs and why people abuse them means that they affect the brain and body in ways that can affect your critical thinking skills, integrity, and inhibition levels. All of these functions are crucial to maintaining good standing at your job.

Job Loss Or Suspension

Many employers require random or regular drug testing. When you agree to work for your employer and submit to drug testing, you are agreeing to stay drug-free.

Violations of a drug-free workplace policy can result in termination (loss of job) or suspension.


Certain illicit or prescription drugs can depress your central nervous system, making your movements, heart rate, and breathing rates slower. Other drugs may cause you to hallucinate or become drowsy.

In many industries, such effects can have dangerous consequences, such as injury to yourself or others.

How On-The-Job Drug Use Can Affect The Workplace

Using drugs in the workplace or before work can also affect your employer, your coworkers, and the work environment.

SAMHSA reports that drug use among employees can affect:

  • employee attendance levels
  • productivity levels
  • overall morale
  • workplace accidents
  • illness incidents

Workplace Substance Abuse FAQs

Learn more about the effect of substance abuse in the workplace below.

What Are The Major Problems Associated With Drugs In The Workplace?

According to SAMHSA, the major problems linked to drug use in the workplace include effects on attendance, productivity, injury and illness, and morale.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect The Workplace?

Substance abuse can affect the workplace by impacting a person’s sleep levels, behaviors, critical thinking skills, and other critical central nervous system functions.

This in turn impacts a person’s performance, can affect how much and how often they show up to work, and more.

Can You Fire Someone For Drug Use?

An employer can fire an employee for drug use if a drug-free policy is in place and is violated. This varies by state.

Find Treatment For Drug Or Alcohol Abuse

If you are an employee and want help for substance abuse, you are not alone and you have options. Your employer is required by law to work with you while you get help.

Learn more about your rights to getting rehabilitation while keeping your job and the treatment options available to you or a loved one. Call our helpline for more information.

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
(888) 859-4403

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