Alcohol Abuse Among Farmers: Causes & Treatment

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Farmers make up only 1.3% of the workforce but contribute $7 trillion to the U.S. economy each year. High-stress working conditions may cause some farmers to turn to drug or alcohol use. Resources are available to better support these workers to overcome addiction.

Alcohol Abuse Among Farmers: Causes & Treatment

The farming industry is, in large part, the backbone of America’s food system. About 2.6 million farmers contribute nearly $7 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, despite comprising only 1.3% of the workforce.

A farmer’s job is no easy feat. Agricultural workers face physically demanding labor, difficult family dynamics, poor work-life balance, and mental and physical health issues.

These factors and more may account for why alcohol use is so prevalent among farmers. Though the exact figure is unknown, the majority of alcohol-related accidents occur in America’s farming communities.

Read more about careers with high rates of addiction.

Rates Of Alcohol Use Disorder Among Farmers

While only 14% of Americans live in rural areas, nearly half (45%) of all alcohol-related deaths occur in these regions. Most families living in rural areas are associated with the farming industry.

Binge drinking is more common among adolescents and adults in rural communities. However, there is also a mental health crisis among farmers, with 25% of them believed to suffer from mental health issues.

COVID-19 also significantly affected domestic farmers. Many farmers had to downgrade production due to labor shortages, while pricing was influenced by sharp changes in demand.

The stress of the recent pandemic coupled with the many job responsibilities may contribute to the epidemiology of heavy drinking and alcohol misuse among farmers.

Farmers And Drug Abuse

Though most research on farmers focuses on the use of alcohol, there is also a higher incidence of drug use in this sector.

For example, one study found that 74% of people working in agriculture have been affected by the opioid crisis.

People who work in farming face a higher likelihood of being injured on the job than people in other occupations.

Doctor-prescribed opioid painkillers are the most common gateway into opioid abuse for this cohort.

A population-based health survey of 129 farmers found that 54.3% used opioids at some point. Of those farmers who answered the questionnaire, 65.7% said they were diagnosed with opioid use disorder by a licensed health care provider.

Opioid-related deaths occur at a five-times higher rate among farmers compared to the general population.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use N/A High and consistent
Illicit Drug Use N/A N/A
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A Opioid use has increased after the COVID-19 pandemic

Signs Of Addiction In Farmers

If a person is abusing drugs or alcohol, there may be telltale physical and/or behavioral signs. These signs may be more or less apparent depending on the extent of substance use.

Common signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • cravings to drink alcohol
  • an increased tolerance to alcohol
  • difficulty controlling alcohol consumption
  • trouble maintaining personal responsibilities at work or home due to excessive drinking
  • engaging in risk-taking behaviors while under the influence
  • continuing to drink despite experiencing alcohol-related problems
  • frequent hangovers or symptoms of withdrawal
  • a physical alcohol dependence evident by worsening withdrawal symptoms
  • reduced concern for personal appearance and/or hygiene

There are also signs of substance abuse that may specifically affect the work of farmers.

Common signs of substance use disorder in general among farmers may include:

  • reduced care for and condition of crops, domestic animals, and/or farm
  • increase in farm accidents or injuries
  • changes in typical routines
  • withdrawing from social events, gatherings, or prior social responsibilities
  • decline in the appearance and/or condition of the farm
  • increased prevalence of or worsening health problems
  • signs of stress in children

Factors Possibly Contributing To Addiction In The Farming Sector

Farmers shoulder many responsibilities. From having their financial livelihood hinge on the success of their farm, to the constant upkeep required for farm maintenance, this is a career where achievements don’t come easy.

Unfortunately, the weight of dealing with these responsibilities correlates with excess stress, a major risk factor for substance abuse and other mental health issues.

High Stress

Managing a farm can be highly stressful. In fact, farming is known to be more stressful than the majority of occupations.

Farming entails performing physically demanding tasks. Farmers must deal with machinery breakdowns, weather conditions, crop issues, and fluctuating costs and prices.

Because farmers tend to live where they work, there is also a poor work-life balance. A farmer’s life may revolve chiefly around farmwork with little opportunity to take a real break or vacation.

The majority of farms are located in rural America. As a result, farmers may operate within a bubble that’s largely isolated from the rest of the community.

Some farmers may use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with high stress levels. In this way, substance use may be an attempt to self-soothe or escape the stress.

Mental Illness

The stress that farmers face can manifest as conditions like anxiety, depression, and/or substance abuse. Farmers are five times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

There are fewer health care and psychiatry resources available in rural regions. Farm families, particularly men, may also hesitate to seek help because of a stigma that farmers are independent, strong, and self-sufficient.

Farmers who manage multi-generational farms may experience constant guilt, due to the fear of mismanaging the farm, losing the farm, or losing the control over land and/or crops.

Family Dynamics

Many farms are managed by families and passed down from generation to generation. As a result, several generations may live together to help care for the farm.

Working and living with family members can blur the lines between these relationships. Though family can provide support, they can also create added conflict when disagreements arise.

Financial Concerns

When a private farmer loses their job, it can quickly lead to the loss of their home as well. Farmers are highly skilled, but if they lose their job, their skills may only transfer at other farms.

Farmers encounter seasons when crops don’t thrive as much, affected by insects, weather conditions, or other issues. Lack of control over market demand also contributes to financial worries.

Risks Associated With Substance Abuse Among Farm Workers

When farmers use alcohol and/or drugs while working on the farm, they experience an increased risk of unintentional accidents or injuries.

Because some farmers operate heavy machinery and deal with large domestic animals, some of these accidents can be severe and even deadly.

Farmers who are impaired by substances while working also risk reducing their productivity levels, which will ultimately affect cash flow.

Because many farmers work for themselves and manage farm work independently among their families, it can be easier for a substance abuse issue to continue for prolonged periods.

Supporting Farmers With Drug Or Alcohol Addiction

Fewer supports for addiction treatment are available in rural areas. Education on the risks of substance abuse and addiction’s impact on the farming industry is critical.

Organizations like the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation develop ways to communicate the impact of substance abuse on the farming sector.

Farmers can be encouraged to educate themselves on the associated risks, so as to discourage substance use for themselves and their family members.

Farmers who hire outside workers can implement drug and alcohol use policies and educate their workers on the hazards of substance abuse.

Farmers can also provide workers with information on detox, inpatient, outpatient, and mental health services that are available in the region, should they need support.

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