High-Stress Occupations and Addiction

The Work and Stress Connection

Professionals can live hectic lives. Thanks to the added demand of being available, a professional today needs to be even more connected than in the past. This constant availability, of course, leads to stress and anxiety. Many studies have pointed out that workplace stress can lead to debilitating health effects, ranging from heart problems to mental trauma. The human body isn’t meant to be in a constant state of anxiety, making the association between high-stress occupations and addiction a common one.

Because of the need to relax, many professionals seek out a thing that can help them release some of that stress. Unfortunately, the fallout from some of the actions taken by professionals and executives can affect a person’s life and livelihood.

Addiction is a common occurrence in some professionals, directly linked to the amount of stress those individuals must deal with daily. Some professions are more stressful than others, however. Combining that added stress with the easy availability of substances that can lead to disorder creates a perfect storm of ingredients. Many professionals see drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the things they deal with. However, stress can negatively affect the human body, making individuals feel as though drugs help them cope with these adverse effects.

High-Stress Occupations and Addiction


Stress and the Human Body

The human body is built to handle stress in short bursts. However, as stress becomes more prevalent and chronic, the body’s natural methods of dealing with it break down. The musculoskeletal system tends to tense up when a person is stressed. They may find themselves clamping down their jaws and feeling the muscles of their back and neck in a constant state of contraction. Stress also affects a person’s respiratory system.

Stressful conditions can lead to shallow breathing and hyperventilation in some cases. In extreme cases, stress coming from a traumatic event may even trigger an asthma attack. This problem isn’t limited to individuals who have displayed a history of asthma in the past. It can afflict anyone. The risk of heart disease and cardiac arrest also goes up significantly when dealing with stress regularly.

Chronic stress can lead to complications within the human digestive system as well. It can lead to increased issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. In addition to the gastrointestinal system, the nervous system also experiences significant damage from chronic stress. The nervous system is constantly in operation.

Chronic stress causes a constant drain on the body’s energy. While the nervous system itself isn’t damaged through chronic stress, the continual activity associated with this condition negatively impacts other body systems. Finally, both male and female reproductive systems suffer from stress, resulting in lower libido, and in some cases, infertility.


Why Stress Leads to Addiction

Substance use disorder, also known as addiction, stems from people’s dependence on a substance. When a person needs to find a way to release their stress, they can go about it in several ways. Most people see hobbies as a way to release their stress, relax, and unwind. Unfortunately, not all people view stress and its management the same way. Some executives and professionals realize that they can afford substances they wouldn’t typically be attracted to and start using them.

Many of these substances have a side-effect that leads to euphoria and a sense of relaxation that they can’t get with hobbies or interpersonal relationships. The relaxation these substances bring becomes a significant part of their lives, driving them towards addiction.

Many of the professions dealing with substance use disorder stem from how easy it is to access these drugs. Because of the high-stress nature of the work, a culture of drug use sometimes develops as an acceptable way to manage the symptoms of stress. It’s not strange to hear stories of professionals being introduced to drug use by their mentors. In many cases, addiction slowly creeps into their lives without them knowing that it’s even happening. But how do addiction and dependence overwhelm someone?


Addiction and Dependence

Although many people use the terms addiction and dependence interchangeably, they are distinctly different elements. When someone first starts taking a substance, their brain goes through physical changes to adapt to the use of the drug. These changes can take several forms, depending on the drug the person uses. The brain rebuilds itself to adapt to the presence of the drug, but in doing so, it creates a situation where the person starts to need the drug to function normally. This condition is known as dependence and may lead to a person feeling unwell without access to their drug of choice.


Addiction is a brain disease that pushes a person to make illogical (and sometimes harmful) decisions to pursue the drug they crave. People who suffer from substance use disorder usually don’t see when addiction overcomes their common sense. To them, the decisions they make are sensible because they aim to satiate the need they have for the drug. Unfortunately, individuals who deal with substance use disorder often lose their jobs and destroy their interpersonal relationships to pursue the substance. They replace the stress in their life with euphoria, which leads to the collapse of their livelihoods.

High-Stress Occupations and Addiction


High-Stress Professions and Addiction Rates

Some professions show up in studies more often than others when it comes to substance use disorder. While some of these professions might seem like obvious choices for substance use disorder, others are surprising in how mundane they are. Popular culture has painted some industries as rife with substance use disorder. News stories and reports have backed up the assumption that some businesses tend to have a more significant portion of addicted people as professionals than others.

However, it’s essential to understand that the choice of a job doesn’t determine whether someone falls prey to substance use disorder. A person becomes addicted to a substance based on many factors, but no hard-and-fast rule determines who will become addicted to which drug. These professionals are most at risk because of the inherent stress that forms the core of their industries and professions.


Doctors and Healthcare Professionals

Individuals who have the lives of others in their hands daily tend to deal with a significant level of stress. Because of the nature of the job, they have to deal with losing patients, leading to depression and anxiety in their careers. However, stress is only one part of the equation. Doctors and other healthcare professionals usually have easy access to medicines, which include prescription drugs and opiates.

The stress of the job, combined with access to these substances, creates an easy method for someone to start using the drug. Doctors and other medical professionals are human, and they go through periods of emotional distress as well. A lot of them turn to prescription drugs to deal with this stress since they don’t have the time to invest in other methods of stress relief. Consuming drugs doesn’t start off as impactful on their lives, but it quickly turns into an intractable problem.


The legal profession has a lot of earning potential. Unfortunately, the massive income they get from high-profile cases is matched by the stress of managing public relations and their own personal lives. A 2016 study done by the American Bar Association found that one in every five lawyers was a problem drinker. When we compare this figure to other professions, that’s almost double the rate of alcohol addiction.

A significant portion of those lawyers are younger, newly qualified professionals. Many of them aren’t aware of the massive pressure of billable hours and expectations from clients. It’s typical to find them dealing with substance use disorder as a means of coping with the pressures of the legal fraternity. Meetings in legal circles usually involve alcohol as a social lubricant, so there’s never any shortage of the substance they’re addicted to.

Management and Sales

Another massively competitive field that fuels substance use disorder is management and sales. Managers encompass anyone in an organization who deals with personnel and equipment. It covers roles as varied as supervisor to CEO. Much of the success or failure of a business depends on the competency of the managers. Managers within sales departments know how crucial their management skills can be.

Sales itself is a high-energy component of any business. The focus on making numbers usually drives sales executives to take chances that pay off. The heady nature of these professions makes them the ideal breeding ground for addiction. The adrenaline rush is what most of these professionals seek out in their work lifestyles. Unfortunately, this fixation on “the rush” also means that it’s less likely that typical hobbies would appeal to them. Drug use is a significant contributor to professionals burning out and leaving the profession.

Arts, Entertainment and Recreation

There’s a bit of a stigma for artists, musicians, and others working in the arts and entertainment fields. There’s a longstanding tradition of linking substance use and creativity, with some of the most creative artists of our time swearing by their substance use. This revelation creates a dangerous precedent that future artists follow to live up to the expectations of fans and producers. In some cases, mentors have pushed their charges toward drug use because they expect it to lead to better content.

Drinking and drug use are rampant in artistic communities, leading to severe problems and sometimes very public fallouts. It’s not just limited to artists either. Executives in entertainment companies typically engage in a similar high-risk behavior lifestyle because it helps them identify with the clients they represent.

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Law Enforcement and Social Services

Police officers and social service workers typically care about the state of the world around them. They dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are much better at dealing with other people’s problems than their own. Part of the toll of assisting others is the mental impact the suffering of others has on a person’s mental state.

Emotional attachment to cases is necessary for social work but can lead to severe consequences when things don’t go the way the social worker expects them to. Escaping the job sometimes means escaping reality, which drugs can help with.

Both law enforcement and social services have been educated extensively on the danger of substance use disorder. Unfortunately, this education doesn’t stop them from considering themselves as unique and able to avoid addiction. Law enforcement, in particular, is in close contact with individuals that deal in illicit substances, sometimes arresting them and seizing the material.

The stress of being a law enforcement officer combined with easy access to drugs on a large scale can prey on even the most diligent officers. Drugs provide an escape from the world that they deal with daily. Counseling helps to avoid some of this problematic behavior. Still, when a person is already a victim of a substance use disorder, very little can be done apart from rehabilitation.

Construction and Mining

Industrial employees tend to display a visible substance use problem. SAMHSA mentions that more than 15% of construction and mining workers reported heavy alcohol use during a thirty-day period. Part of this reckless behavior comes from the high-risk nature of the job. Construction and mining professionals have to face deadly conditions daily. Even with OSHA regulations, there’s a good chance that severe injuries could occur in the line of duty.

In fact, some of the injuries that these workers sustain are gateways toward substance use disorder. Chronic pain because of poor posture during work hours may result in a prescription for opiates to manage the pain. However, depending on how often the individual uses the drug, they can quickly develop a dependency.

This dependency may eventually lead to addiction. In this industry, substance use disorder can be a significant factor in worker efficiency and production. Employees who are dealing with addiction should seek help from specialized services to help them overcome it.

Food Service and Hospitality

People who work in food preparation or hospitality need to learn how to pivot quickly. Because of guests’ expectations, these professionals have to be juggling a lot of things at the same time. Understandably, their stress levels go up so quickly. As with anything that’s based around people, unpredictability is a significant factor in the industry. Being able to adapt to unexpected circumstances is a critical aspect of any individual within the industry. But why do these individuals typically turn to substance use disorder?

The fast pace of work combined with low pay and low job satisfaction create an unhealthy work environment. Employees at bars and restaurants also have easy access to bars, making developing and sustaining an alcohol abuse disorder easy.

Employment in this sector is largely informal, with many people being employed on a part-time or seasonal basis. While some employers do offer support for employees who may find themselves addicted to a substance, it would only apply to full-time, regular employees. Part-time employees would have to face the problem on their own, and many times their insurance coverage doesn’t offer support for drug addiction recovery.

Military Personnel

The military usually requires its troops to go through regular drug testing. In this profession, losing awareness because of a drug use problem could be deadly for more than just individuals. The military is, therefore, harsh on drug use disorders. However, it is very accepting of alcohol use disorder among its soldiers.

Substance use disorder might not have happened while on active duty but might have set in after a soldier returned from a tour of duty. Some soldiers are prescribed medicines to deal with chronic pain problems, which devolve into addiction. Others come back with alcohol use disorder tied to a coping mechanism to deal with what they might have seen while on active duty.

Military personnel often have a hard time reintegrating into society because of all they’ve seen and done while on duty. Many come back with mental disorders, such as PTSD, that might exacerbate their substance use disorder. A depressive disorder shows up quite often in these individuals as well, making it even more problematic to overcome a substance use disorder.

Long-term effects may linger for years after a person completes their final tour of duty. Specialized help may be able to help if the person manages to get into the program early enough. Unfortunately, many of these veterans don’t see their substance use problem as an issue.

High-Stress Occupations and Addiction

Getting Help as a Professional

A professional has an image to protect. Typical rehab centers are not where they should go if they want to ensure privacy and continued employment. Specialized care facilities exist for professionals and executives that need a more private setting to recover. Find Addiction Rehabs deals with professionals in a way that values their privacy and security. Admissions follow strict HIPAA guidelines to protect the personal information of our guests.


Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can help cover time off for treatment and keep personal information secure. Dealing with addiction doesn’t have to be something you do on your own. Let us help. Contact us today to find out more about how we treat substance use disorder in professionals.

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