Addiction can affect anyone at any time. However, research shows that working in specific industries, including construction, can increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the construction industry has one of the highest rates of substance abuse. An estimated 15% of construction workers grapple with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In fact, a landmark 2015 report revealed that construction workers had the second-highest alcohol usage behind miners out of all industries.
But not everyone working in construction has or develops an addiction. Determining whether or not construction workers have a high risk of addiction requires understanding the job’s daily demands and how they can lead to physical injuries, stress, and other lifestyle factors that can lead to self-medication.
The Challenges Of Working In The Construction Industry
Working in construction isn’t easy. In addition to the job’s physical demands, many construction workers work more than 50 hours a week. Research shows that people who work this many hours a week are more likely to abuse alcohol than individuals who work fewer hours a week.
Construction sites are often dangerous places. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor data, more than 1,000 construction workers lost their lives to job-related injuries in 2019. More than 200,000 construction workers experienced nonfatal injuries in 2019. Despite the numerous risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have identified some of the most common causes of construction site injuries, which include:
- Falls. This includes falling from heights, slips, and trips. Many falls on construction sites happen as a result of uneven surfaces, holes, ditches, improper mounting and dismounting from equipment, and improper ladder use, but workers can also fall from a building, scaffolding, or piece of machinery to the ground below. Many slips and trips can happen when items are misplaced or spills or leaks occur.
- Trench collapse. Trench work is a necessary part of many different construction projects. But construction trenches can be extremely dangerous. In addition to causing severe injuries, a collapsed trench can be deadly. When a trench collapses, a construction worker can be buried alive or have their air supply cut off, which can be fatal. Construction workers are twice as likely to have a deadly accident in the trenches than other construction areas.
- Collapsed scaffolding. Even though OSHA has strict rules about the safety and stability of scaffolding, collapses can still happen. When they do, construction workers can fall, sustain serious injuries, and be plunged to their death.
- Electric shock and electrocution. Working with heavy machinery, power tools, generators, and electrical wiring can put construction workers at risk of electrical burns. Even though burns are the most common result of electrocution, construction workers can also experience nerve damage and suffer from cardiac arrest if they experience an electrical shock on the job.
- Being struck by an object. These injuries occur when there is any type of impact between a construction worker and a piece of equipment. This can include being hit by a machine or falling materials.
- Repetitive motion injuries. Construction work requires a lot of repetitive motion. When the body moves the same way repeatedly, muscles and soft tissues can become worn down and damaged, causing pain and limited mobility.
- Fatigue and exhaustion. Another challenge many construction workers face is fatigue and chronic exhaustion. Even though construction work is physically demanding, worker fatigue is often overlooked. But constant exhaustion can impair a construction worker’s ability to safely and effectively perform their job duties. Fatigue can also increase the risk of an accident or injury. Some of the most common causes of worker fatigue include extended hours, night work, extreme weather, and increasing workloads. Tiredness, muscle weakness, dizziness, headaches, and inability to concentrate can make construction work mentally challenging on top of being physically demanding.
- Physical pain after the workday ends. Almost all construction workers experience some level of physical pain when their workday ends. Data published in a medical journal revealed that 24% of construction workers develop leg pain, 16% lower back pain, 13% feet pain, 11% head heaviness, 11% shoulder pain, 7% neck pain, and 6% lower back pain.
- Stress. Working in construction can also be highly stressful. While the physical stress associated with the industry may be apparent, many construction workers also carry the weight of mental and weather-related stress. Tight deadlines, poor equipment, fear of injuries, lack of job security, extreme weather conditions, and little opportunity for advancement are just some of the factors that can stress construction workers. The most dangerous aspect of construction work is poor mental health.
Dealing with these work-related challenges on a daily basis can lead to substance abuse and addiction. Here’s how.
How Can These Challenges Lead To Substance Abuse and Addiction?
Construction can be rewarding but at a high price. The days are long, the job is physically demanding, injuries happen often, and almost everyone feels pain. These factors can lead to self-medication.
Self-medication is the process of using a substance to self-treat physical and psychological ailments. Although dangerous, many construction workers self-medicate because:
They’re looking for temporary relief. Individuals who use drugs or alcohol, for this reason, believe that consuming these substances makes the symptoms of a distressing experience or feeling more manageable in the moment.
They haven’t found another way to cope. Dealing with fatigue, high levels of stress, and physical pain can be overwhelming and daunting. Individuals who haven’t sought professional help may turn to drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms.
They’re trying to treat physical pain on their own. To help relieve some of the physical pain associated with construction, many workers try to self-medicate their pain with alcohol or prescription pills.
Now let’s look at some specific ways construction work can increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction.
- Injuries. When individuals get severely injured on a construction site, doctors typically prescribe them prescription pills for the pain. If this pain medication is misused or abused, the risk of addiction increases.
- Fatigue and exhaustion. Working 50 hours or more a week can be extremely challenging. To help keep up with work demands, many construction workers use stimulant drugs to increase focus and remain alert.
- Stress. Dealing with high levels of stress is one of the most common risk factors of addiction. Stress doesn’t automatically cause addiction, but substance abuse and addiction often appear to be an attempt to deal with stress in a way that ultimately leads to more problems.
Substances Commonly Misused By Construction Workers
Even though construction workers around the country misuse and abuse many types of substances, research shows that some substances seem to be more commonly misused, including:
- Alcohol. An estimated 12% of construction workers are alcoholics, and 16% report that they are heavy drinkers.
- Opioids. A study from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showed that from 2011 to 2015, people employed in construction or mining made up 26% of all opioid deaths in the state.
- Cocaine. According to a 2019 ScienceDaily report, construction workers were most likely to use opioids and cocaine out of all occupations.
Real Recovery For Real People
Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we pride ourselves on providing real recovery for real people. We completely understand that everyone can’t leave their jobs to attend a residential treatment program for weeks or months. That’s why we provide outpatient addiction treatment. With our treatment programs, you can overcome addiction, learn to manage stress, receive counseling, repair your relationship with your family, and begin again. Contact us today to learn more.