Substance Abuse Among Salespeople: Statistics & Treatment

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Salespeople work in a front-facing, people-centric role, and many of them do so on a commission-only basis. Dealing with the stress of closing a deal and earning enough to support a stable living may contribute to the number of salespeople who turn to alcohol or drugs.

Addiction Among Salespeople

Salespeople are responsible for engaging clients and closing deals. While some sales workers focus on consumer products, others specialize in cars, antiques, art, and other high-ticket items.

The American sales force is made up of approximately 5.7 million professionals. Many sales jobs are commission-based, which adds an extra layer of pressure for workers to land conversions.

To deal with the sometimes overwhelming stress and anxiety, and also to socialize with colleagues and clients, salespeople may use drugs or alcohol. About 10% of salespeople experience addiction.

Read more about other careers with a risk of addiction

Rates Of Addiction Among Sales Professionals

Addiction affects one in 10 salespeople, though the figure may be higher. More sales workers abuse alcohol, with one study citing that 28.6% meet the criteria for heavy drinking.

Higher levels of drug addiction are also prevalent among salespeople. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 7.8% of wholesale trade workers and 10.3% of retail sales workers reported using drugs in the past month.

Cocaine is perhaps the most-abused illicit drug by salespeople. Adderall and opioids are among the prescription drugs abused by sales workers, though the exact figures for each are unknown.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 28.6% meet the criteria for binge drinking High and consistent
Illicit Drug Use 10.3% for retail sales workers, 7.8% for wholesale trade workers Consistent
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A Adderall and opioids are most-used

Signs Of Addiction In Sales Workers

If someone is dealing with substance abuse issues, there are usually telltale physical and/or behavioral signs to look for.

Some of the more common signs of a substance use disorder (SUD) include:

  • bloodshot or glossy eyes
  • eyes with pupils that are oversized or pinhole-sized
  • tremors or shakiness
  • sudden mood swings
  • uncharacteristic anxiety, anger, fear, and/or paranoia
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • increased isolation
  • reduced concern for personal appearance
  • an increase in unexplained accidents or falls

There are also common signs of substance abuse that are unique to the workplace.

Common signs of substance abuse among salespeople include:

  • reduced performance
  • increase in work errors
  • impulsivity and/or poor decision-making
  • uncharacteristic periods of hyperactivity and low energy
  • unexplained absences, missed deadlines, or appointments
  • unexplained disappearances during the workday
  • sudden financial problems
  • problems with colleagues

Risk Factors For Addiction Among Salespeople

Every job comes with its own set of stressors, and a sales career is no different. With salespeople fulfilling a people-forward role, these professionals are required to be “on” at all times.

Drinking Culture

Perhaps one of the most significant contributors to substance abuse in the sales industry is that sales often operates within a culture of drinking. One-third of salespeople report binge-drinking behaviors.

In the industry, it’s seen as socially acceptable to meet and greet with clients over dinner and drinks. It’s also common practice to toast successes with alcohol.

Many networking and business events in the sales industry are held amidst a seemingly endless flow of alcohol. The presence of alcohol allows some sales staff to relax and unwind with clients.

Drinking is so acceptable in sales that it may push light drinkers to consume more alcohol. Salespeople may become accustomed to drinking as a way to be more comfortable speaking with clients.

Performance Pressure

Many salespeople work in commission-based roles. As a result, their earnings depend on their sales performance.

Sales professionals may neglect their well-being to lower their day’s inventory outstanding (DOI)—or the average number of days it takes for inventory to be sold—to impress sales managers.

Sales professionals may neglect short-term needs, such as eating lunch or getting a full night’s sleep, to focus on making a sale.

In order to land a sale, these professionals may have to experiment with various techniques, such as cold-calling, marketing via social media, door-to-door sales, and other means.

Feelings of stress and fear from not landing a sale, and earning commission, can create a need to suppress emotions. Frustration related to problematic clients can cause salespeople to seek chemical relief.

Addictive Nature Of The Job

Sales itself is an addictive job. Salespeople can become addicted to landing sales and/or the process (or ritual) of landing a sale: research, prospecting, cold-calling, etc.

It’s possible for sales workers to hinge job satisfaction entirely on their ability to land a sale or meet monthly quotas.

Some folks may feel that using drugs or alcohol allows them to be more productive, while others may feel that using drugs and alcohol is a way to substitute the rush from making a sale.

Autonomous Work Conditions

There is a high prevalence of remote sales jobs. Some sales professionals organize their schedules around meetings with clients, whether that’s in person, on the phone, or online.

Working independently, even in a social role, can lead to feelings of isolation. Autonomous roles, such as remote sales jobs, can also make it easier to hide substance use issues from management.

Supporting Salespeople With Addiction Issues

Dealing with substance abuse issues in the sales industry may be a challenge, but it’s possible. Employers can support workers with addiction problems by establishing substance-free work policies.

Even though many sales roles are commission-based, employers can provide staff with information on drug and alcohol use in the workplace, and available treatment options.

Providing information of this nature is a preliminary way of managing addiction in the workplace. This information can help workers establish a strategic plan in the event of an addiction problem.

Companies can also provide employees with the numbers for hotlines for mental health and substance abuse. These services are free and can connect employees to the support they need.

Salespeople can participate in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These groups are held worldwide and can be helpful at home and when traveling.

Get Help For Substance Abuse Issues

Addiction is tough to deal with, but help is available. If you or a loved one is experiencing drug or alcohol abuse, contact and get connected to a treatment center today.


Canton, Massachusetts

Bedrock Recovery Center


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Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


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