Engineers And Substance Abuse: Statistics & Treatment

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Engineers are responsible for the development of structures, products, services, processes, and technologies. Faced with a high level of pressure and poor work-life balance, some of these professionals may turn to substances, predominantly alcohol. Fortunately, there are resources available for them to get started on the path to recovery.

Signs Of Addiction Among Engineers

Engineers are responsible for creating, innovating, analyzing, developing, and testing computer systems, machines, structures, electronics, consumer products, and other materials.

Although engineering can be a very rewarding career, it also carries a reputation for being stressful. Long hours, tight deadlines, and high expectations put engineers under great pressure.

To cope and escape from stress, engineers may turn to substance use. Engineers experience addiction at a rate of 7.9%, with the rate of alcohol abuse (8.3%) being higher than that of the general population (7.5%).

Read more on careers with high rates of addiction

Rates Of Addiction Among Engineers

Approximately 8.3% of engineers have alcohol use disorder (AUD), though realistically, the numbers may be higher.

For some of these professionals, heavy drinking patterns develop as young adults in college.

Several factors may contribute to the rate of heavy alcohol use among engineers. One has to do with the fact that alcohol metabolizes within a matter of hours, while drugs remain in the body for longer.

Strict policies prohibit the use of alcohol or drugs on the job. Thus, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence may be easier to hide than a substance use disorder (SUD) involving illicit drugs, like stimulants, inhalants, or hallucinogens.

Because alcohol is socially acceptable, some businesses may allow alcohol consumption on certain occasions, such as to celebrate a new deal or project completion.

Engineers And Drug Use

Engineering firms are known to enforce strict alcohol and drug policies. Substance use on the job is viewed as gross negligence and can carry severe penalties.

Drug use is less common than alcohol abuse among engineers. However, cannabis is the most commonly abused illicit drug among engineers; a finding that’s consistent with the general population.

It is unknown as to how engineers are impacted by prescription drug abuse, like opioids, sedatives, or amphetamines, though the statistics are believed to be comparatively low.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 8.3% Consistent
Illicit Drug Use 6.9% Cannabis is the most common

Signs Of Addiction In Engineers

Whether someone is a professional engineer or an engineering college student, there are often telltale physical and behavioral signs of substance abuse.

Common signs of an SUD include:

  • bloodshot, glossy eyes
  • eyes with pupils that are pinhole-sized or oversized
  • tremors or shakiness
  • mood changes, i.e., uncharacteristic paranoia, aggression, irritability, giddiness, fear, etc.
  • insomnia
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • reduced concern for personal hygiene and/or appearance
  • increased isolation

In a professional capacity, there are also telltale signs of substance abuse that engineers may exhibit in the workplace.

Common signs of substance abuse among engineers include:

  • lost productivity
  • coordination impairments
  • memory recall problems
  • impulsivity
  • failure to meet project deadlines and/or client meetings or appointments
  • inaccuracies in planning
  • sweatiness, sickness, and/or appearing hungover
  • frequent absenteeism
  • disappearing from the job site
  • declining relationships with coworkers

Possible Risk Factors For Addiction In The Engineering Field

The American workforce is home to nearly 2 million engineers. There are more than 40 different types of engineering professions, and they fall under six different categories.

Engineers are responsible for the creation and development of new structures, services, processes, products, and technologies. The role comes with high expectations and long hours.

Some engineers design the complex infrastructure of airplanes, cruise liners, rocket ships, and skyscrapers. Others specialize in food safety, environmental regulations, and public health.

High Expectations

Engineers are required to manage high expectations in regard to their projects. These expectations also include the need to please multiple stakeholders.

To meet these high expectations, engineers often must manage many responsibilities simultaneously. Many of these responsibilities may change day to day, depending on the need.

High pressure can lead to high stress and burnout. The work of many engineers, such as those responsible for infrastructure, automobiles, and aerospace, are entrusted to ensure the health and safety of other people.

Poor Work-Life Balance

Working overtime in the engineering industry is common. Aside from regular hours, work typically revolves around projects and deadlines.

These hard deadlines, coupled with the need to please multiple stakeholders, requires many engineers to work extra hours, including weekends.

Work-Associated Dangers

Depending on the workplace environment, some engineers must work in and around hazardous conditions. Heavy machinery and sharp equipment, such as blades, are common, especially with infrastructure.

Some engineers are tasked with troubleshooting malfunctioning machinery. Again, this situation can place engineers directly in the pathway of potential injury or, even worse, fatality.

Risks Associated With Engineers And Substance Abuse

It’s a hazard to work in any job under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Working as an engineer while impaired comes with its own risks.

Because engineers are responsible for development, impairment can result in rash decision-making and potentially dangerous mistakes.

Engineers who work in and around high-powered machinery and in demanding situations can risk injury to themselves or others, and possible fatality.

Supporting Engineers With Addiction Issues

Addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of profession or status. Engineers are no exception.

Companies can support engineers with addiction issues by providing them with the resources for detox services, and inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.

Companies that offer health insurance benefits can provide employees with a list of in-network addiction treatment providers.

Employee-assistance programs, such as complimentary counseling, call centers, education, and crisis management, can offer support for substance use problems.

Companies can also offer their engineers second-chance employment, allowing professionals to return to their jobs after completing addiction treatment.

Engineers can also consider attending support groups, such as peer-led Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous. AA and NA meetings are available both in-person and online.

Help Is Available For Substance Abuse

Freedom from addiction is only a phone call away. If you or a loved one is dealing with an addiction, contact to find a treatment center today.


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