Addiction In The Restaurant Industry: How Common Is It?

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Restaurant workers have some of the highest rates of substance abuse. High turnover, a high-stress environment, and easy access to substances are contributing factors. However, there are ways that restaurant leaders can better support their staff.

Addiction In The Restaurant Industry: How Common Is It?

The restaurant industry has one of the highest rates of substance abuse. Working long hours in high-stress, customer-facing conditions, coupled with easy access to alcohol, are contributing factors.

Not only is the rate of substance abuse high among restaurant workers, but it also has a greater effect on their lives. Restaurant employees are more likely to experience abuse problems outside the workplace.

By knowing the factors that contribute to substance use disorder (SUD) among this cohort, restaurant owners and other leadership can better support their staff.

Learn more about addiction rates in other careers and fields.

The High Rate Of Substance Abuse In The Food Service Industry

The rate of substance abuse among restaurant workers is 19.1%; this equates to nearly one in five restaurant workers.

Easy access to alcohol is one of the main reasons for the high rate of substance abuse among waitstaff and bartenders. The food service industry is focused on consumption, and alcohol sales make up a large portion of sales.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Illicit Drug Use 19.1% The most-used illicit drug is cocaine.
Alcohol Use 15.2% Heavy alcohol use consistently poses a concern for the restaurant business.
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A The most-used prescription drugs are opioids.

Alcohol Use Among Food Service Industry Professionals

Alcohol is a major money-maker in the restaurant business. In most restaurants, alcohol sales are responsible for at least 30% of total revenue.

Because alcohol sales are so directly tied to success, employees learn to operate within the drinking culture. Depending on the restaurant, it may also be a party atmosphere.

Allowing employees to gather for a nightcap, and even providing them shift drinks, is common. In some establishments, it’s seen as an acceptable way to wind down after work hours.

Contributing Factors To Substance Abuse In The Restaurant Industry

There are many factors that influence the high rate of substance abuse in the food service industry. These factors center on the work environment and the nature of the industry.

Greater Access To Drugs And Alcohol

A restaurant may sell alcohol, but that is not the only reason for easy access. Because the industry has such a high rate of drug abuse, colleagues are more likely to have and use drugs in the work environment.

Knowing if a colleague has access to drugs increases the likelihood that others will partake. Access to drugs can also contribute to regular abuse problems.

High-Stress Environment

The restaurant industry is known for being fast-paced and physically demanding. Shifts revolve around rush periods, or brackets of time when there is an influx of customers.

The work environment can shift between chaotic and high-stress, to slow-paced and boring. To balance out these periods, employees may work long hours, and early and late hours.

Many restaurants are notoriously short-staffed, and it’s common for employees to work double shifts. In an effort to keep up with demands, workers may use substances to improve their performance.

Late-Night Socializing

Late-night socializing is a major characteristic of the restaurant industry. It is considered a social norm for workers to congregate at bars after shifts.

Some establishments offer employees post-shift drinks. Socializing around alcohol increases the likelihood for late-night fraternizing, which can lead to further substance use.

Job Insecurity

Job insecurity is a harsh reality of the food service industry. Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, earning low pay and not receiving health insurance or other benefits.

Restaurant employees are often transient, going from restaurant job to restaurant job every so often. The average turnover rate is about 75%, which means that three in four workers are not permanent.

Worries about job insecurity and turnover worsened during the pandemic. For the first time, many industry workers were faced with widespread restaurant closures that left them out of work.

The stress of making enough money to afford bills, coupled with high job insecurity, can lead to depression and anxiety. These effects on mental health can contribute to substance abuse.

Consequences Of Addiction In The Restaurant Industry

There are several consequences of substance abuse among industry workers.

Some of the consequences of addiction in the restaurant industry include:

  • a higher rate of on-the-job injuries and accidents
  • higher turnover
  • a higher likelihood of driving under the influence
  • poor customer service
  • higher liquor costs for the restaurant
  • a tarnished reputation for the establishment
  • greater stress among workers

Responding To Substance Abuse Among Restaurant Workers

Due to high turnover, restaurant workers are not always provided with the support they need. The unfortunate reality is that some restaurants will let go of an employee if substance abuse is suspected.

However, a lack of support only creates a domino effect. If restaurant workers with addictions are fired, they will look to find work elsewhere, and thus continue the cycle.

At the same time, restaurants can earn a reputation for not supporting their staff and will be less likely to attract and retain talent.

Instead, restaurant leaders can provide support for their employees by enforcing a substance-free workplace culture.

Establishing A Substance-Free Workplace Culture

There are many parameters that restaurant owners can put in place to discourage alcohol abuse and drug abuse.

Some of these efforts may include: 

  • prohibiting end-of-shift drinks
  • forbidding employees from drinking onsite, even after-hours
  • instilling an open-door policy, where employees can vocalize concerns to management without judgment
  • holding regular meetings and training sessions that discuss safe
  • consumption, appropriate on-the-job conduct, substance use, and even addiction treatment options

Find Freedom From Addiction

Dealing with addiction is hard, no matter what industry you work in. If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, can connect you with resources to help.


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