How Common Is Addiction In The Tech Industry?

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The number of jobs in tech is steeply rising, but so is the competition. Though substance use is accepted in some spheres of the tech industry, it can lead to addiction and jeopardize a professional’s career. Fortunately, there are programs in place to support tech workers with addiction.

How Common Is Addiction In The Tech Industry?

With the constant innovation of new technologies like artificial intelligence and automation, the tech industry is fast-growing. More than 12 million people currently work in tech.

Widespread layoffs this year left more than 200,000 tech workers out of work, yet the industry is still among the highest in-demand fields. The majority of tech careers come with higher-than-average wages.

Despite the perks, working in tech is fiercely competitive. Tech workers may perceive their positions as being at risk because of the amount of professionals applying for jobs.

These workers are known to experience high levels of stress, which can cause burnout over time. Stress and burnout may lead tech workers to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which can lead to addiction.

Read more about careers with high rates of addiction.

Rates Of Addiction Among Information Technology (IT) Professionals

About 10% of tech workers have substance abuse issues, though rates may be higher. In this field, substance abuse encompasses alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs.

Nearly 9% of IT workers engage in heavy drinking. Beer, wine, and spirits are often readily available in tech offices, and the majority of tech events provide free-flowing alcohol.

Cannabis is the most-used drug in the tech industry. Some studies have found that as many as three in five tech workers have used cannabis, which is higher than the national average.

Widespread legalization of marijuana may contribute to the high incidence of recreational use. Many tech workers are based around Silicon Valley, and California was among the first states to legalize cannabis.

Prescription Drug Use In Tech

The tech industry was particularly hard-hit by the opioid pandemic. One study found that nearly 20% of tech workers have abused opioid painkillers.

The prevalence of opioid abuse may be higher in tech because of the long hours of desk-sitting. The physical strain caused by sitting at a desk can result in posture issues and pain.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 9% Slightly decreasing
Illicit Drug Use 60% of tech workers are said to use cannabis Cannabis is the most-used illicit drug by tech workers
Prescription Drug Abuse As many as 20% of tech workers may abuse opioid painkillers Opioid abuse rates are especially high in the tech industry

Signs Of Addiction In Tech Workers

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

Common signs of substance use disorder (SUD) include:

  • glossy, bloodshot eyes
  • pupils that are oversized or pinhole-sized
  • tremors or shakiness
  • slurred speech
  • uncharacteristic mood swings, e.g., fear, paranoia, aggression, giddiness, anxiety, etc.
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • reduced concern for personal appearance and/or hygiene
  • unusual smells on their clothing or person

In addition to general signs of substance abuse, there are also signs that may be made more apparent in professional workplace settings.

Common signs of SUD in the tech sector may include:

  • reduced productivity
  • general lack of motivation
  • higher rate of absences, call-outs, or no-shows
  • problems with colleagues
  • impulsivity
  • poor coordination
  • increased on-the-job work errors
  • disappearing often on the job and/or taking frequent bathroom trips

Possible Contributing Factors To Addiction In Tech Professionals

Every career involves stress and related pressures, and the tech industry is no different. There are several factors that can lead to an increased risk of substance abuse in this field.

Performance Pressure

The number of jobs in tech continues to rise with the continued advancement of technologies. As the demand for tech jobs persists, the pool of skilled workers increases as well.

More college students graduate each year with tech-related degrees. The amount of potential workers, both new and experienced, makes this field among the most competitive.

To remain both competitive and valuable to companies, tech workers must simultaneously keep up with the latest tech trends, stay up to date on new technologies, and meet existing demands.

The tech field operates according to tight deadlines, and tech workers must keep up with these expectations, too. Workers face pressure not only from execs, but from colleagues and customers as well.

Mental Health Risks

Experiencing high pressure over time can result in mounting stress levels and eventual burnout. Both of these factors can lead to anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues.

Mental health issues and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. Tech workers may use substances to cope with stress and difficult emotions.

Flexible Schedules

Many jobs in tech offer the leniency to work from home. Although this accommodation is more convenient in many aspects, it can also allow substance abuse to worsen.

Working from home can make it easier for tech workers to drink alcohol before, during, and after work hours, for example. It may also permit staying up late to use alcohol and/or other substances.

A disheveled or deteriorating physical appearance is one of the signs of substance abuse. Other signs, like slurred speech and attitude changes, can be more noticeable in in-person workplaces.

If a person works from home, they are away from the watchful eyes of colleagues and bosses. This lack of physical oversight may make it easier to hide substance abuse.

Culture Of Alcohol And Drug Use

Many employers in the tech industry host social events, such as business networking opportunities and happy hours, where alcohol is readily available.

Some workers may rely on alcohol as a way to loosen up and mingle. However, the presence of alcohol can also normalize heavy drinking, both during and after work hours.

In Silicon Valley, where competition is especially steep, there is a known drug culture. Many employers don’t drug test their workers, and recreational drug use is widely known about and, in some companies, accepted.

High Salaries

Many tech workers earn high salaries. As a result, these substantial resources can provide these workers greater access to drugs and/or alcohol.

Because wages are high, it may also be easier to hide the effects of substance abuse. If money is less of a concern, the impact of alcohol or drug abuse on a person’s wallet will not be felt as much.

High salaries can also make it easier for substance abuse issues to persist and worsen before they begin to be a problem.

Supporting IT Professionals With Addiction Issues

Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone in any industry, anywhere in the world – and the tech industry is no different.

Many tech companies offer employer-paid healthcare, and these companies can educate their workers on available addiction treatment providers, including local detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment centers.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensures that employers provide workers with unpaid leave to deal with medical issues, including drug or alcohol abuse.

Although employers are able to fire an employee whose conduct and/or job is affected by drug or alcohol use directly, workers can’t be fired solely on the grounds of having an addiction.

Because some tech companies have the resources, there is the option to provide employees with the opportunity to attend luxury addiction treatment programs where high-speed internet access allows them to keep working while in recovery.

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