Handling Substance Abuse In The Hospitality Industry

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The hospitality industry has among the highest rates of substance abuse. Working long hours in high-stress conditions, and in environments where alcohol use and even binge drinking is normalized, influence the rate of substance abuse. However, there are ways for establishments to support their employees.

Handling Substance Abuse In The Hospitality Industry

In the hospitality industry, providing customers with memorable experiences is often the definition of success.

From hotels and amusement parks to restaurants and bars, this industry strives to have customers return repeatedly.

Less focus may be given to the health and well-being of employees. The hospitality industry has among the highest rates of substance abuse compared to other industries.

Working long hours in high-stress conditions may contribute to heavy drinking and illicit drug use among workers. An emphasis on alcohol use and sales also normalizes drinking to excess.

Rates Of Substance Use Among Hospitality Workers

Restaurant workers, bartenders, waitstaff, hotel staff, and other hospitality workers have higher rates of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, and prescription drug abuse than workers in other industries.

About 17% of hospitality workers, or nearly one in five, have a substance use disorder (SUD). Alcohol abuse is a top concern, with one in 10 workers participating in heavy drinking.

Illicit drug use is also high. Approximately 19.1% of food service workers, specifically, have reported using illicit drugs at least once in any given month.

The coronavirus pandemic and associated stress and isolation only exacerbated drug use among this and other groups. Cocaine and opioid painkillers are the most-abused substances among this cohort.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Illicit Drug Use 19.1% of hospitality workers use drugs in any given month Cocaine is the most-used illicit drug in the hospitality industry.
Alcohol Use 10% Alcohol use has remained a consistent problem; rates increased during the pandemic.
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A Opioids are the most-used prescription drug in the hospitality industry.

Work-Related Contributors To Addiction In The Hospitality Field

There are several risk factors that make industry workers more vulnerable to substance abuse. Many of these risks are related to work environment and expectations.

High-Stress Environment

Not every workplace is toxic, but the hospitality industry is known for being especially pernicious. Even with rules on conduct, the demanding environment can lead to fast compromises.

The industry revolves around busy seasons, rush hours, and high-traffic periods. During these times, the focus is on serving customers, not on employees’ health and well-being.

If an employee fails to meet expectations, colleagues, leaders, and customers may treat them poorly.

Despite the high stress, hospitality workers may not be given long enough breaks to recover or be able to find the time to take them.

Waitstaff, especially, often opt for 15-minute smoke breaks instead of sitting down for an uninterrupted meal.

Younger Workers

About half of all hospitality workers are between 20 and 30 years old. Undoubtedly, younger people are more likely to socialize after-hours and partake in heavy drinking culture.

It’s common for young workers to congregate at bars after their shifts. An environment of young workers can encourage others, no matter their age, to partake in late-night fraternizing as well.

Lack Of Benefits

While some hospitality jobs offer healthcare and other benefits, others do not. Food service workers, particularly, are known to work for low pay and little or no benefits.

The lack of benefits can be a source of stress for restaurant employees. Without access to necessary resources, employees may work long shifts and late nights to support their needs.

Job Insecurity

Turnover is high in the hospitality industry, at about 70%. Because of this high rate, management knows that most employees, even full-time workers, are not long-term.

High turnover may be another source of unease. A lack of job security can leave hospitality workers constantly wondering if they will have employment in the future.

Easier Access To Drugs And Alcohol

Because many establishments serve alcohol, employees are often surrounded by it. The close proximity can normalize alcohol and heavy drinking, and glamorize the partying atmosphere.

Some establishments allow workers to have a “shift drink,” or a complimentary adult beverage, after their shift ends. Doing so only further encourages workers to seek relief from a hard day with alcohol.

Because of the long hours, some employees may use substances in an effort to enhance their performance. Knowing that a colleague has access to drugs makes it more likely that other workers will experiment as well.

Signs Of Substance Abuse In Hospitality Employees

There are several warning signs that suggest an employee or coworker has an addiction.

Signs of substance abuse include: 

Specific signs related to employees include: 

  • being too overwhelmed to perform their usual workload
  • frequently visiting the bathroom
  • increased absenteeism or unexplained callouts

Addiction’s Effects On The Hospitality Industry

The effect of substance abuse on the hospitality industry is great. One of the most dangerous consequences is increased injuries and accidents.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2021 there were more than 2.6 million injuries and illnesses in the hospitality industry. Not all of these incidents were due to alcohol or drug abuse, but some of them were.

That same year saw 464 fatalities in the industry from unintentional overdoses due to alcohol or drug abuse. This number represents a 19.6% increase from 2020, and the ninth consecutive annual increase.

Substance abuse can also jeopardize the reputation of an establishment. A business where many employees have an addiction is less likely to provide customers with a quality experience.

How Hospitality Leadership Can Support Their Staff

Hospitality leaders are largely focused on the success of the business. But the truth is, if many of the workers have substance abuse issues, success will always feel like a stretch.

Preventative Efforts

Efforts to support mental health and prevent substance abuse among hospitality workers can pay off in the long run.

Establishing a culture where mental health is embraced can be as simple as clearly communicating a substance use-free work environment.

Leadership can set an example by never using substances themselves at work and let employees know from day one that they are expected to be sober while working.

Recovery-Supportive Workplace

A recovery-supportive workplace can also help prevent factors that may contribute to substance abuse while reducing obstacles to receiving care and maintaining sobriety.

Features of a recovery-supportive workplace include:

  • establishing a culture that removes the stigma of addiction and supports workers in recovery
  • supporting second-chance employment
  • providing information about healthcare, detox and treatment programs, and support groups to those who request it

If employees feel supported in their workplace, and safe from the temptations of substance use, they are less likely to abuse substances and engage in risk-taking behaviors.

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