Substance Abuse Among Teachers: Signs & Treatment

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Teachers comprise just 2.5% of the workforce, but their influence is far-reaching. Due to high stress at work, especially in a post-pandemic world, some teachers may turn to substance use and develop an addiction. Several resources can help these professionals along the path of recovery.

Substance Abuse Among Teachers: Signs & Treatment

Teachers are responsible for educating most of America. From preschool to grad school, more than 4 million teachers are tasked with leading and guiding over 75 million students.

Teachers make up 2.5% of the U.S workforce, but their influence touches the majority of the population. These professionals often dedicate more than 40 hours a week to their jobs.

Emboldened with the responsibility to educate the country’s young people and adults alike, school staff are no strangers to stress and pressure. Though rewarding, teaching is a selfless and sometimes thankless profession.

To deal with the hardships that coincide with their career, some teachers may turn to substance use. About 5.5% of teachers in the U.S. have a drug or alcohol addiction.

Read more about careers with high rates of addiction.

Teachers And Rates Of Addiction

Approximately 5.5% of teachers, and possibly up to 7% of these professionals, are addicted to drugs or alcohol. This figure equates to at least 220,000 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the education system have exacerbated substance abuse rates. These seemingly overnight changes led to high levels of stress and led more teachers to seek an escape.

According to a recent survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 4.7% of teachers reported heavy use of alcohol in the month prior to the survey.

Drug Addiction And Teachers

Studies have also found that 4% of teachers, or about 160,000 of them, use illicit drugs. Some teachers may use drugs to temporarily relieve pain or stress, or to improve mood or productivity.

Few studies are available regarding drug use among teachers. Most studies on this topic focus on how teachers can support students who use drugs, particularly in regard to the opioid epidemic.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 5.5% Increasing post-pandemic
Illicit Drug Use 4% Increasing post-pandemic
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A N/A

Signs Of Addiction In Teachers

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 substance use disorder (SUD) include:

  • bloodshot, glossy eyes
  • tremors or shakiness
  • eyes that are pinhole-sized or oversized
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • reduced concern for personal appearance and/or hygiene
  • uncharacteristic mood swings, e.g., agitation, hyperactivity, giddiness, paranoia, fear, etc.
  • slurred speech
  • impaired coordination
  • changes in sleeping patterns

Common signs of SUD among teachers include:

  • using drugs and/or alcohol during school hours
  • frequent absences and/or latenesses
  • missing school deadlines and/or meetings
  • falling short on responsibilities such as lesson planning, grading, etc.
  • appearing less engaged in teaching work and with students
  • being unprepared for lessons
  • being distracted with thoughts of drinking alcohol or using drugs during the workday

Possible Contributing Factors To Addiction In The Teaching Profession

There are several factors that may contribute to substance abuse among teachers. Some of these factors may have become exacerbated in a post-pandemic world.

High Stress

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, teachers were impacted by high stress. One study found that nearly half (46%) of all teachers deal with high stress levels.

On a daily basis, teachers must accept and accommodate ongoing policy changes, prepare students for state testing, and maintain the roles of educator, caregiver, and role model.

Teachers are held to high standards and expected to maintain professionalism outside of school due to their vocation. This professionalism includes their conduct in the community and on social media.

Many teachers work for underfunded school districts and feel compelled to invest their own resources to purchase supplies. Teachers also devote time before and after school to lesson planning and grading.

High stress levels, especially over time, can severely affect well-being and lead to burnout along with other harms, such as mental health issues and substance abuse.

High Expectations

Teachers often deal with difficult students, parents and/or caregivers, colleagues, and faculty. Nonetheless, teachers are highly criticized if they fail to maintain professionalism throughout.

Teachers lead classrooms that have students on opposite ends of the learning spectrum. Some students are advanced while others underperform, yet teachers must provide access to success for all.

Despite teachers’ efforts, teaching remains a largely thankless profession. Teachers are judged on how students perform, despite having no control over their students’ lives outside of school.

Increased Incidence Of School Violence

Over the last decade, gun violence in schools has skyrocketed, generating a high degree of fear among teachers, students, and faculty.

Teachers must guide students through active shooter drills and learn how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.

Gun violence was never more serious in schools than it is today. The incidence of gun violence in schools can make teachers feel unsafe at all times, to an extent.

Financial Insecurity

Teaching is notoriously known for being an underpaid profession, especially in smaller communities. While much is expected of teachers, their salaries don’t always reflect this.

Many school districts are underfunded, which leaves the schools unable to purchase supplies, new technology, or additional staff. This lack of funds carries over into teachers’ salaries.

Risks Associated With Substance Abuse Among Teachers

When teachers are constantly under stress, their stress levels can also affect their students. This dynamic can create a domino effect, thereby harming the students’ performance.

Schools also have policies on substance use. Schools can terminate teachers that violate these policies by being under the influence and/or or bringing substances or paraphernalia onto school property.

Supporting Teachers With Addiction Issues

Addiction does not discriminate, and teachers are not exempt from substance abuse. However, there are measures in place to support teachers who are dealing with addictions.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to permit employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for any medical issue, which includes addiction.

Employers can provide teachers with information about detox, inpatient, outpatient, and other treatment services that are local and within the network of employer-provided health care.

Teachers unions, like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), also offer resources on substance abuse treatment and support for teachers.

Teachers with addiction issues can also attend peer-led support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to support their recovery and continued sobriety.

Get Help For Addiction

Addiction can feel like an uphill battle, but you don’t have to face it alone. If you, a family member, or another loved one has a substance abuse issue, contact to get connected with a treatment program today.


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