Alcohol Use Disorders Plague Restaurant Workers

Heavy Drinking, Alcohol Use Disorders Plague Restaurant Workers

Substance abuse is a major health concern for food service workers. People who work in this industry are more likely to engage in heavy drinking and drug use than people in most other occupational groups.

Patterns of heavy drinking pose an individual as well as public health concern, making accidents and injuries more likely both on and off the job and placing workers at risk for various health related problems. Heavy drinking also places workers at higher risk for developing substance use disorders and makes it difficult for employees recovering from alcohol use problems to manage their intake.

Third-Highest Drinking Rates, Highest Illicit Drug Use

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative Administration (SAMHSA), 11.8 percent of food service workers engage in heavy drinking, compared to 8.7 percent of all workers in the United States. Only the mining and construction industries (17.5 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively) had higher rates of heavy drinking among employees.

The accommodations and food services industry had by far the highest rate of illicit drug use of all the employment industries in the SAMHSA survey. Just over 19 percent of workers in this industry reported using illicit drugs, compared to 13.7 percent of arts, entertainment and recreation workers (industry with the second-highest rate) and 8.6 percent of all U.S. workers.

Furthermore, the survey found that workers in accommodations and food service had the highest rate of substance use disorders in the past year, at 16.9 percent.

Availability, Social Expectations

There are several factors that likely contribute to the high rates of substance abuse in this industry. Accommodations and food service workers are frequently young adults, who have higher rates of alcohol and illicit drug use than older adults. People with active substance use disorders or at risk for use disorders may also be more likely to seek jobs in food service. Finally, the availability of alcohol in restaurants and bars may also fuel alcohol use problems among the employees in these establishments.

Jobs in food service often involve not only the constant presence of alcohol, but also the expectation to be sociable when it comes to alcohol. This can mean being conversant regarding the drinks menu in order to be able to make recommendations, and, in the case of bartenders, accepting drinks or shots when patrons offer to buy.

Greater tolerance for on-the-job intoxication may also facilitate alcohol use problems among restaurant workers. Bartenders in particular are often not only permitted but more or less expected to do a certain amount of drinking on the job.

A 2013 study of drinking habits among food service workers, which was published in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, found that earning tips in the form of cash may also fuel heavy drinking among these employees. Many of the servers and bartenders in the study reported that going out with friends after work with a good deal of cash from tips made it more difficult for them to moderate their drinking.

Social networks consisting largely of servers and bartenders from nearby establishments also contributed to frequent off-duty drinking, according to the 2013 study. Many of these workers reported drinking at each other’s establishments during their free time, both to visit with friends and acquaintances and because it is common for such workers to give each other discounts when they share patronage.

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