Alcohol, the Only Billion Dollar Business That’s Costing Businesses Billions

May 1, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that excessive drinking costs the U.S. economy more than $223 billion a year, including health care expenses due to health problems stemming from alcohol abuse, law enforcement and criminal justice expenses while under the influence, and motor vehicle crashes due to alcohol-impaired driving.

At the workplace, it costs companies billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, and frequent job changes.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—recently released a survey of employees in different job sectors and their likelihood to use alcohol and drugs.

They found that people working in the mining industry had the highest rates of heavy drinking in the past month (defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion, on five or more days in the past month), at 17.5 percent.

The second highest rate was among construction workers, at 16.5 percent. Both mining and construction are physically taxing jobs, which may explain the workers’ propensity to drink after a long, gruelling day.

Meanwhile, people working in education and the health care and social work fields were least likely to drink heavily, at 4.7 and 4.4 percent respectively.

Researchers, warned, however, that in general, men have higher rates of substance use than women, while young adults between 18 to 25 have higher rates of substance use than older adults. These demographic traits may be reflected in the people who tend to work in those industries.

But when researchers controlled for age and gender differences, they found that construction workers still had high rates of alcohol use. With the mining industry, the high rates did not show up when they controlled for age and gender, suggesting that workers’ heavy drinking can be attributed to the fact that miners tend to be young and male.

As for illicit drugs, workers in the food services and accommodations (hotels) industry ranked highest, at 19.1 percent, followed by people in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry (13.7 percent), and management (12.1 percent).

When researchers looked at rates of substance abuse disorder (alcohol or drug dependence as defined by psychiatrists) among workers in the past year, restaurant and hotel workers again ranked highest. But this wasn’t true after controlling for age and gender.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @annieeenyc