Restaurant and Bar Workers Ranked #1 for Drug Use Among Various Occupations

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will be releasing new data on restaurant workers’ drug and alcohol use in the immediate future, providing insight into current statistics as compared to its last survey released in 2007.  At that time, 12 percent of full-time hospitality and restaurant workers reported heavy use of alcohol.  Seventeen percent reported illicit drug use.  Ranking No. 1 amongst various occupations for drug use—and No. 4 for alcohol abuse-- were restaurant and bar workers.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

A study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse (2010) looked into heavy alcohol use by food service workers nationwide.  Completed telephone surveys of 1294 employees of a national restaurant-bar chain provided the study research information.

The study revealed “hazardous alcohol consumption patterns” in 80 percent of men and 64 percent of women working in the food service industry.  Study findings were cited as evidence of “extremely high rates” of the misuse of alcohol by young adult restaurant workers.

Nationwide surveys indicated that food service workers:

  • Are notably heavy alcohol users.
  • Their heavy drinking rates are amongst the highest of any occupation.

The research also suggested that individuals at risk of alcohol dependence “may self-select” into the food service/restaurant industry.

While the study reported restaurant-worker drinking patterns remain poorly understood, the following risk factors were identified as relevant:

  • Work stress. 
  • Low-income jobs.
  • Younger age.
  • High turnover positions.
  • Living alone.
  • Irregular hours.

Job categories based on job duties reported by survey participants included individuals serving customers, bartenders, kitchen staff including cooks, hosts, and server assistants such as busboys.

Study findings identified variables linked to higher rates of problem drinking in a young adult restaurant worker population included:

  • Male.
  • White.
  • Age 21-24.
  • Educated post-high school.
  • Current smokers.
  • Frequent after work socializing with co-workers.

With increased awareness of the drug and alcohol problem inherent in the restaurant-bar industry, those who have experienced its adverse consequences formed an organization with the purpose to bring beneficial change—Restaurant Recovery (RR).

Restaurant Recovery

Restaurant Recovery is a non-profit organization with a mission to help restaurant workers find and pay for alcohol and drug treatment.  The organization seeks comprehensive solutions addressing addiction and its effects on restaurant employees and their families, and the restaurant industry.

Another facet of the Restaurant Recovery mission is continued care for restaurant workers struggling with addiction, seeking sobriety or who are in recovery.  Through increased awareness of the restaurant industry’s unique culture, Restaurant Recovery advocates for change in its industry.

Organization goals envision:

  • Helping to cover costs of quality treatment for employees in the food service industry with substance abuse problems.
  • Helping families obtain and pay for support programs or counseling.
  • Bringing “restaurant culture” into the spotlight.
  • Setting-up and maintaining a restaurant employee sober support network.
  • Helping employees to keep their employment while in treatment –or providing help finding employment once out of treatment.
  • Working directly with treatment facilities, helping to mold programs to fit the lifestyle of a restaurant worker.
  • Ultimately, to create a treatment center specific to the restaurant employee.

Restaurant Recovery (RR) identifies a number of the reasons their meetings (RR Meetings) may appeal to restaurant workers.  Some of the reasons given on their website include:

  • The meetings are non-religious.
  • The meetings do not insist that professionals in the industry give-up on the restaurant life or livelihood.
  • Workers in the restaurant industry frequently have an experience set that make them a unique population.
  • There are not many jobs in other industries where an employee can be drunk or high at work without consequence.
  • There are not many jobs in other industries where getting fired is “not usually a big deal” because a restaurant worker can easily get hired somewhere else.
  • Restaurant workers “have constant access to substances.”

And perhaps most telling of all is this one, “The industry promotes excessive drinking and we are encouraged to believe it is normal.”