Updated 19 August 2013

Drunk on the job

Boozy lunches, suspiciously long bathroom breaks, another day "off sick". Most drug abusers are employed - and some jobs carry a heavier risk than others.

Boozy lunches, suspiciously long bathroom breaks, another day "off sick". Most drug abusers are employed - and some jobs carry a heavier risk than others.

This issue is in the news since City of Cape Town officials estimated that about 10% of their 27000 staff have an addiction problem.

“Substance abuse in the South African workforce is on the rise,” says Ronelle Sartor, former executive officer at the South African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP) and now director of Phoenix House Rehabilitation Centre.

  • Brewing and distilling workers
  • Hoteliers and barmen
  • The mining industry
  • Company directors
  • Domestic workers
  • Seamen and people in international employment settings
  • Professionals such as doctors and lawyers
  • Female managers
  • Military personnel
  • Oil rig workers
  • People in the advertising and film industries

Where risk comes from
There are various factors that make people more prone to drug abuse in certain jobs, including:

  • Availability of alcohol and drugs. Brewery workers and barmen are an obvious case in point; domestic workers, who often have access to alcohol in their employers’ homes, are another example.
  • Stress. This is a factor in dangerous physical jobs such as oil rig work, or jobs that carry high levels of responsibility and performance anxiety like top managerial positions. Female managers may suffer stress because of high expectations and pressure from male colleagues to ‘keep up’. Abusers in this group often choose tranquilisers and sleeping pills.
  • Social pressure. The pressure to party after work and at work-related events is particularly strong in some industries, such as advertising and film.
  • Isolation. Separation from normal social or sexual relationships could be problematic. Mine workers, executives and sales reps who spend at lot of time travelling often experience loneliness that can lead to substance abuse. Seamen and people in international employment settings are often made further vulnerable by boredom and social pressure.
  • Very low or very high income. Earners at the bottom end of the income scale tend to struggle with high stress at work and home; they often blow their whole salary on alcohol. High earners can afford the more sophisticated illegal drugs such as cocaine.
  • A job in the health professions. Among professionals, health care workers are, ironically, at risk because of a combination of emotionally draining work and access to drugs.

  • Decreasing work performance and productivity
  • Forgetfulness, poor concentration, poor judgement calls
  • Erratic work patterns
  • Failure to meet deadlines
  • Loss of interest and motivation
  • Impaired communication and inter-personal skills
  • Poor conflict management
  • Aggressive or inappropriate behaviour
  • Dishevelled appearance
  • Lateness and absenteeism


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