RIA Expert Summary

Drinking and Drugs in the Workplace

RIA Reaching Others with Research on Drinking and Drugs in the Workplace/Workforce

Published February 8, 2012 This content is archived.

A seminal study at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) reported that during the course of the year “15% of the U.S. workforce has used or been under the influence of alcohol at work.” 


This prevalence study of workforce-workplace substance use included data obtained from interviews with 2,800 employed adults, ages 18-65, who resided in the contiguous U.S. and District of Columbia between 2002-03.

Substance use in the workplace occurs:

  • Just before coming to work
  • On lunch hours and other breaks
  • Due to intoxication at work or hangover from the night before

Since that study, additional important research results about substance use on the job have been released by RIA.

Timely Research

Highlights of research findings in this area included:

8.9 million workers drank alcohol at least once during the workday. Most workers who drink during the workday do so during lunch breaks, though some drink while working or during other breaks.

  • 2.3 million workers have consumed alcohol at least once before going into work.
  • Approximately 63% of the workforce reported that they could easily bring alcohol into work, use alcohol while working, use alcohol during lunch and other breaks, or obtain alcohol at work. Similarly, 59% of the workforce reported that they could easily engage in the same behaviors regarding illicit drugs.
  • Men’s alcohol use and impairment at work was more prevalent than women’s. Younger employees worked under the influence of alcohol or with a hangover more than older workers, and unmarried workers more than married workers.
  • Occupations showing the highest rates of workplace alcohol use and impairment were: management, sales, arts/entertainment/sports/media, food preparation and serving, building and grounds maintenance.

Illicit drug use in the workforce involved an estimated 14% or 17.7 million workers; illicit drug use in the workplace involved an estimated 3% or 3.9 million employed adults.

  • A permissive workplace substance use climate impacts perceptions of workplace safety, work strain, and employee morale among employees who do not use substances at work.
  • 13% reported exposure to a co-worker who used or was impaired by an illicit drug during the workday; 23% of the workforce reported exposure to a co-worker who used or was impaired by alcohol during the workday. Exposure to a permissive workplace substance use climate differed by gender, age, occupation and work shift.
  • Illicit drug use is not distributed equally across employers. Among young men in high-risk occupations, 56% report overall illicit drug use and 28% report workplace illicit drug use. Likewise, among young women in high- risk occupations, 43% report overall illicit drug use and 11% report workplace illicit drug use.

Reaching Others

These research results have been communicated to various constituencies – individuals, families, medical professionals, addiction treatment providers, other scientists – in multi-media kinds of ways: newspapers, tv and radio, websites and blogs, and peer-reviewed journals. In addition, groups representing the state and federal government, specific employers/occupational groups, and management and human resource agencies in the U.S. workforce have distributed the information to their customers/clients. A selection of those points of dissemination demonstrate RIA’s widespread effort to reach diverse publics with research results.

Newspaper/TV/Radio: NBC News, The New York Times, the TODAY show, NBC's Tonight Show, The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Reuters, Washington Times, Washington Post, 97ROCK Radio, WABC-TV7-NYC, Canada's Globe & Mail, AP & UPI, WBFO-WBEN Buffalo, NPR's Morning Edition, CNN-Atlanta, FOX News Radio-NYC, CBS Radio-Seattle, WAVE-FM, Hamilton Ontario, Newsday, Washington Examiner, London Ontario's CHRW Radio, The Daily Torreador in Lubbock Texas, The Buffalo News, Buffalo Business First.

Web: newsfromrussia.com/usa, alcoholism.about.com, bestsyndication.com, allheadlinenews.com, upi.com, innovations-report.de, scienceblog.com, psychcare.com, lifesolutionseap.com; lawnandlandscape.com; msnbc.msn.com; breitbart.com/news; theconservativevoice.com; news-medical.net; jjkeller.com/news (a source for DOT/Transportation, OSHA/Workplace Safety, Human Resources, Construction Safety and HazMat/Hazardous Materials regulation compliance products and services); usatoday.com; healthnewsdigest.com; sciencedaily.com; denverpost.com; landscape.com; Society for Human Resource Management (daily online news service); webmd.com; workcover.nsw.gov.au.

Scientific Journals: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Handbook of Occupational Health Psychology, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Journal of Substance Use, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, and Alcohol Research and Health.

Other: U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Dept. of Health & Human Services’ HealthBeat radio; U.S. Dept. of Labor's Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace (dol.gov); Workplace Substance Abuse Advisor newsletter; Safety Office of Huron County, Norwalk, Ohio’s county workers; Contractor Magazine; National Trade Publications (magazines); Queens County Bar Association; Professional Lawn Care Workers of America; Maine Office of Substance Abuse; Human Resource Executive Magazine; Assisted Recovery Centers of America in St. Louis, Missouri; Center on Alcohol Marketing & Youth, Georgetown University in D.C.; The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey Update newsletter; Health magazine; Monitor on Psychology; United Transportation Union news; Life’s Solutions EAP newsletter, Miami, Florida; The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist newsletter; the American Psychological Association Practice Organization’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program.

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