How Common Is Addiction Among Construction Workers?

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Construction workers face high rates of substance abuse. Physically demanding work, frequent injuries, and a culture of toughness may be contributing factors. Construction companies can support their employees’ mental health through encouraging a drug-free worksite.

How Common Is Addiction Among Construction Workers?

The American construction industry is one of the largest industries in the U.S., employing nearly 8 million workers. It also employs more workers with substance abuse than any other profession.

About 15% of construction workers, or 1.2 million people, have a substance use disorder (SUD). Addiction rates in construction trades are nearly twice that of the general population and increasing.

Find out more about addiction rates in different job fields.

Substance Abuse Rates In The Construction Industry

Some people associate the construction industry with heavy drinking. Statistically, it isn’t an unfair assumption, with alcohol abuse affecting 12% of these workers.

While workers are prohibited from drinking on the job due to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, drinking after a tough work day may be a common way to unwind.

OSHA requires construction companies to drug test workers more than other industries as a safety precaution, since construction work can be very dangerous and often involves operating heavy machinery.

Routine drug tests may partially explain why substance abuse rates are so high in construction, at 11.6%.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 12.5% Increasing
Illicit Drug Use 11.6% Increasing marijuana use (2.3% of construction workers)
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A Increasing prescription opioid abuse

Construction Workers And Opioid Abuse

The construction industry has the highest rate of workplace injuries among all job industries. Opioid painkillers are often prescribed to construction workers to help ease the pain of injury.

One-third of construction workers suffer from at least one musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), like rotator cuff or lower back injuries. Opioid use is three times higher among construction workers with MSDs.

Of all construction workers who are prescribed opioid painkillers, 15% will become long-term users. Long-term opioid users have a 10-times higher risk of developing an opioid addiction.

Signs Of Addiction Among Construction Workers

If you suspect that a friend or colleague is abusing drugs or alcohol, look for the following common signs.

Signs of substance abuse include:

  • bloodshot or glossy eyes
  • pupils that are oversized or pinhole-sized 
  • sudden mood swings, e.g., heightened anxiety or irritability
  • shakiness or tremors
  • slurred speech
  • diminished concern for personal hygiene
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • periods of uncharacteristic hyperactivity or lethargy
  • sudden need for money or complaints of financial problems

There are also several telltale signs that construction workers may exhibit when abusing substances on the job.

Common signs of substance abuse among construction workers include:

  • impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors
  • reduced performance
  • sudden absences or unexplained workday disappearances
  • an increase in trips to the bathroom
  • neglecting work responsibilities
  • impaired coordination

Possible Contributing Factors To Substance Abuse In The Construction Industry

Rates of substance abuse have been high in the construction industry for over a century. Contributing factors may include physically demanding work, a culture of toughness, and job insecurity.

Physically Demanding Work

Construction jobs are challenging both physically and mentally. Workers often perform manual labor year-round in scorching heat and freezing temperatures, and work long hours.

Workers must learn to adjust both physically and mentally to these changing and often quite uncomfortable work environments.

Many workers experience injuries and other health issues due to physical demands. Some workers may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to address pain or chronic stress.

A ‘Tough’ Workplace Culture

Construction workers operate on a deadline. Regardless of their physical or mental pain, they must continue working to meet these set expectations.

Workers may learn to conceal their emotions by exuding an attitude of being tough. A workplace culture of toughness can discourage workers from asking for help when they need it.

Workers may be concerned that requiring help will be perceived as a sign of weakness. Not asking for help can keep these workers trapped in the cycle of addiction for longer.

Job Insecurity

Some construction workers have the support of a labor union, but many others do not. There is also a large percentage of immigrant construction workers who are undocumented.

Without a labor union or the proper paperwork, workers may feel they are unable to take time off. Leaving work for addiction treatment may seem impossible for those whose paycheck supports their family.

If workers are paid hourly, and many construction workers are, they may have to sacrifice pay to receive treatment. Other workers may fear they will not have a job to return to after treatment.

Workday Structure

Even though the scope and type of job will change, the nature of the construction industry doesn’t. Many workers perform similar tasks, such as brick-laying, over and over again.

In addition to causing repetitive use injuries that then require treatment, performing the same tasks day in and day out can become cumbersome and boring.

It’s possible that some construction workers may use substances as a means of entertainment during or following their workday.

Risks Associated With Substance Use In Construction

The construction industry has among the highest rates of non-fatal injuries compared to all other industries. As a matter of safety, workers must devote their full attention to performing job tasks.

Unfortunately, when workers are impaired or experiencing withdrawal symptoms at the jobsite, there is an increased risk for harm.

The implications of these mistakes can be devastating, with potential injuries spanning broken bones, organ damage, amputations, brain injuries, and even fatality.

How Construction Companies Can Support A Drug-Free Workplace

Workplace safety is critically important in protecting the physical and mental health of construction workers.

Due to the high rates of substance use in this field, leaders in the construction industry, including company owners, can take steps to prevent accidents due to drug or alcohol use.

Establishing and enforcing a substance-free jobsite policy that extends to work breaks can go a long way in addressing substance use while on the job.

Construction companies are required by law to regularly drug-test employees. Having clear consequences in place if workers test positive for drugs or alcohol can help deter substance use.

A substance-free policy might include second-chance employment, which allows workers their jobs back after successfully completing addiction treatment.

Find Help For Addiction

If you or a loved one is living with addiction, you can find help today. can connect you with resources for getting started on the journey of recovery.


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