Factors that contribute to an individual’s risk for substance abuse are often perceived as variables outside of their control. Although not very empowering, this is largely an accurate supposition, as 40 to 60 percent of a person’s risk is based on genetics alone. The remaining 60 to 40 percent is thus composed of environmental factors which are many times also the products of fate. The community in which one grows up, the guidance of parents and role-model figures, and socioeconomic status all play a role in exposure to drug use at early ages and thus impact the likelihood of drug abuse in adulthood. This does not suggest that everyone with such risk factors will inevitably fall victim to drug abuse at any point in their lives, but it does highlight the illogical and arbitrary nature of this disease (Addiction statistics, 2021). It is therefore important to be mindful of the factors within our control so that we can do everything in our power to mitigate the risks. Because mere circumstance can have such profound consequences, it should be no surprise that one’s career can also dictate one’s predisposition to substance abuse. Statistical analyses of different career paths indicate that restaurant workers, healthcare professionals, and artists are the three jobs with the highest rates of substance abuse (Sutphin, 2021). The variety within this list may seem odd at first glance, as it appears to encompass a plethora of different skills, environments, and personalities. However, the underlying forces at play here can be easily explained by the fundamental concepts of culture, demand, and availability.
The culture of any workplace refers to the atmosphere of the environment and the behaviors that are considered socially acceptable there. Fourteen percent of artists and entertainers report drug use in the past month, and this is likely due to the flexibility of their schedules and lifestyles alike. Individuals in these more creative fields often select these careers because they are free spirits who do not wish to be bogged down by professionalism and the structure of a nine-to-five desk job. While this lack of rigidity is often crucial for them to successfully create their masterpieces, this type of relaxed environment can lead to increased drug use and misuse. Since drugs and alcohol are also glorified in pop culture, Hollywood, and the music industry, fledgling artists are likely to want to emulate this in order to fit into the culture associated with their career choice.
The desire to be accepted by people that are considered experts in a given field even has a biological basis, as a recent study was able to identify validation in the brain through fMRI imaging. The brain activity of 28 individuals was found to be higher in the ventral striatum, which is the reward center of the brain when they were told experts agreed with their top choices of music. The study also showed that there was variation among the participants, so it could be assumed that the impact of an expert’s confirmation would only be exaggerated if the participant prided themselves on their music taste or dedicated their lives to making art. These results are also thought-provoking since they suggest that the very reward center that plays a key role in the process of addiction is also involved in driving people to value and conform to the existing cultures of substance abuse for the sake of fitting in (O’Callaghan, 2010).
Culture is also applicable to the situations of restaurant workers. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, this job has the highest rates of both substance use disorders and past month illicit drug use (Sutphin, 2021). This is likely due to the lower average age of this demographic, as young people are more likely to engage in heavy drinking and experiment with hard drugs. Younger adults also find themselves in more situations where there are people using drugs and drinking alcohol around them, which ties into the next component of this phenomenon, which is availability. The more access or exposure someone has to drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to partake in these activities in the first place. However, the concept of availability is perhaps even better suited to explain the astronomical rates of prescription drug abuse in doctors.
While it may be expected that healthcare workers might abuse the drugs they have such easy access to, what is more, interesting is that doctors are even more likely to abuse prescription medication than their patients on prescription meds. This suggests that access is an important yet incomplete part of a larger story. Some experts have pointed to a combination of their education and their need to cope with high levels of stress. As experts on these drugs who are deemed competent to assess when others need to take them, doctors may have fewer reservations about taking these drugs. They may also be unable to properly self-diagnose, and as a result of the demands and high-stress levels associated with their jobs, they can turn to prescription meds as an escape (What Professions, 2021).
The demands of a job, the availability of drugs and alcohol to people that choose a particular career path, and the general culture associated with the career should all be taken into consideration, but at the end of the day, they should not prevent anyone from going into any of these areas of work. We must simply be mindful of these risk factors and look out for the signs of addiction to prevent ourselves and loved ones from being impacted. If anything, this just speaks to the fact that addiction can impact people from a multitude of different backgrounds and professions and for various reasons.
Addiction statistics: Drug & substance abuse statistics. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics.
O’Callaghan, T. (2010, June 17). The brain science behind why we care what others think. Time. https://healthland.time.com/2010/06/17/the-brain-science-behind-why-we-care-what-others-think/.
Sutphin, A. (2021, February 4). What Professions Have the Highest Rates of Drug Abuse? (Top 10 Industries). The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/drug-addiction/professions-highest-rate-abuse/.
What Professions Have the Highest Rates of Substance Abuse? Mission Harbor Behavioral Health. (2021). https://sbtreatment.com/professions-high-substance-abuse/.