Profile of Addiction  by Profession

Who is prone to addiction?

It’s a question professionals have been asking for ages, and at the moment, there are no clear-cut answers. In fact, until recently, experts struggled to even define addiction. Did it come about due to lack of willpower? Was it a physical ailment? Did a mental illness cause the problem?

That debate was finally put to rest just a few years ago, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse unveiled this formal definition:

“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

With this formal definition in place, experts can finally focus on risk factors. Modern research suggests that simple delineators like income can’t split the safe from the risk-prone.

Portrait of smiling professionals and workers with business people in background

Cost Considerations

Addictions are often associated with groups of people who rank a little lower on the income scale. It seems convenient, but the truth is a little more complicated.

For example, in a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found people with high incomes living in neighborhoods with high income misdistribution rates had the highest prevalence of alcohol and marijuana consumption.

highest-prevalence-of-alcohol-and-marijuana

This stat seems to suggest that wealth just can’t protect a person from addiction. Instead, wealth might make a person a little more prone to addiction. People with a great deal of money who must walk past neighbors who make quite a bit less seem to be under the sort of pressure that leads to terrible decisions.

And the picture gets even more complicated, in terms of wealth and addiction. For example, a diagnosis of addiction is often dependent on a demonstration of continued use in the face of serious consequences. Unfortunately, as a study in the journal Addiction points out, many people at low incomes simply don’t have the ability to get into the trouble that merits an addiction diagnosis.

For example, an alcoholism diagnosis is dependent on issues like driving while intoxicated. Wealthy people might very well drive while intoxicated, but very poor people might not own cars or motorcycles. That might mean that people who are short on income might have higher rates of addiction than their wealthy counterparts, but their numbers might remain completely hidden.

Conflicting studies like this can be really frustrating, but they expose excellent questions. If issues of income can’t be used to determine addiction risk, what’s a better metric to use? For many, that metric involves employment.

Better Options

Knowing who is at risk for an addiction is vital, because that knowledge can help experts to pull together prevention programs that work. At the moment, it seems best to focus on specific work classes and addiction risk. After all, people who work in the same industry tend to share the same sorts of risks. They might:

  • Have similar income levels
  • Struggle with the same stressors
  • Deal with the same kinds of clients
  • Inhabit the same kinds of work spaces
  • Be tempted by the same sorts of triggers
  • Doctors

    Doctors are good examples of this phenomenon.

    Authors writing for Medscape suggest that the rate of prescription medication abuse among doctors who abuse substances stands at 69 percent, and that high number comes about due to the high pressure of the work and the relatively easy access to drugs doctors deal with as they work.

    A doctor’s job involves making life-or-death choices on the fly, and sometimes, a doctor’s day involves death, dismemberment, and loss. As doctors work, they’re surrounded by pills, potions, and needles. It’s easy to see why they might be tempted to reach out for those drugs when a long day goes terribly wrong.


  • Lawyers

    Lawyers have similarly high rates of addiction, but they tend to lean on alcohol, not prescription drugs.

    In fact, the Legal Profession Assistance Conference suggests that about 95 percent of addictions in lawyers come about due to alcohol.

    These professionals are also under an extreme amount of stress, but they also tend to work with clients who are stressed. They might choose to soothe a client’s rattled nerves with alcohol, and then drink in the spirit of companionship. Or they might hold meetings during dinner with other lawyers, and they might drink there.

  • Law Enforcement

    Law enforcement professionals are also at risk for addiction, as experts suggest that about 20 to 25 percent of them abuse substances of some sort.

    But unlike their doctor and lawyer counterparts, these professionals come to addiction via a completely different trigger. These professionals often develop addictions to prescription painkillers after on-the-job injuries.

    Law enforcement is physical work, involving running, toting, and suppressing. It’s not at all unusual for police officers to get into physical altercations with criminals who don’t want to get caught, and often, those bursts of physical activity aren’t prefaced with stretching. That kind of activity can lead to back, arm, and neck injuries. When that happens, and prescription painkillers are used, something terrible can happen. The pills used to combat pain tend to boost signals of euphoria in the brain, and in time, people become hooked on that feeling of joy and pleasure. The injury caused the cycle, for this group.

People who are unemployed have a completely different path to addiction.

Stress that lawyers, doctors, and law enforcement agents feel seems personal and profound, and clearly, it leads to bad decisions, but people who are unemployed have their own kinds of stress. A study from the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews suggests that unemployed people are more likely to binge drink, drink heavily, or drink in a hazardous manner, when compared to people who have a job. And, unfortunately, those who behave like this don’t reduce their stress. In fact, their behaviors could keep them out of the job market, which can make a drinking problem worse.

Understanding the Data

As the above examples make clear, people in different jobs have variances in a variety of different addiction metrics, including:

  • Types of substances used
  • Prompts for substance abuse
  • Space in which substances are used
  • Danger faced during substance abuse
  • Acceptability of substance abuse

They might have similar addiction risks as a whole, but diving deep into the data suggests that the addictions that develop just aren’t the same from one employment type to another.

That means it’s reasonable for addiction experts, as well as community leaders, to learn more about specific populations of workers. This kind of analysis could result in dramatic changes that reduce the overall risk of addiction a community faces.

Using the Data for Prevention

Understanding different classifications of addicted people could help addiction professionals to develop prevention programs that really work. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that prevention programs work best when they are tailored and customized to meet the needs of a specific population. If addictions are so very different by job title, the prevention programs experts develop should also be different.

They might have similar addiction risks as a whole, but diving deep into the data suggests that the addictions that develop just aren’t the same from one employment type to another.

For example, a prevention program for people in the hospitality sector might involve these interventions:

Hospitality-Industry

A prevention program for people working as laborers, on the other hand, might involve these interventions:

Labor-Force

And a prevention program for lawyers might involve these interventions:

Lawyer-Profession

A prevention program made just for the unemployed might provide courses on job skills, and that program might also detail just how much an addiction costs. For example, an analysis published in Forbes suggests that a pack-a-day addiction to cigarettes can cost more than $2,000 per year. Putting the cost in context, in flyers and other publicly available documents, could prompt some to get the help they need.

Using the Data for Treatment

Clearly, understanding how addiction impacts specific employment positions could be an ideal way to stop substance abuse problems from even starting. But the data could also be really helpful for professionals who hope to develop treatment programs for people who are already dealing with addiction.

For example, in a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers found that people with addictions often stayed out of the programs that could help because they were dealing with (among other things):

  • A lack of awareness about the problem
  • A lack of social support
  • Fear of treatment
  • Privacy Concerns

Programs made for a specific type of worker could help with these factors. For example, people who work in the clergy might not know of anyone else in the novitiate that has the same problem, and they may think that asking for help will be a sign of weakness. A program made for people who are members of the clergy could help to boost awareness of the problem, and that awareness might include data about who is in recovery and who might be willing to help.

Similarly, programs for unemployed people with addictions might include multiple classes on how to nail an interview or how to land a perfect job. These classes wouldn’t reduce the stress of a lawyer with an addiction, but for people who soothe unemployment stress with alcohol, the classes could remove a big trigger that leads right to relapse. It could be a vital part of their recovery.

Finally, programs made for doctors might focus almost exclusively on dealing with temptation when that temptation is all around. These programs might provide test after test for doctors, and there might be significant consequences for relapse. For example, doctors who enroll in an accredited rehab program like this might be told they’ll lose their license to practice medicine if they delve back into drugs. This isn’t an intervention someone in food service might need, as people high while flipping burgers usually can’t kill someone. But a doctor has a different job, and a different tactic is required.

Learning More

Since addictions can be so very different among people in different job classifications, and since the pathways to recovery and prevention can be smoothed with good data, it’s vital for everyone to understand what addiction looks like for different people, and how it can be improved in order to make each person a little healthier.

The subsequent pages in this section break the issue of addiction down by job title and/or industry. That information could be vital for people who develop addiction treatment programs in their own communities, but it might also be helpful for readers who aren’t interested in developing an addiction program.

For example, people who live with someone who is abusing substances might be interested to know a little more about how the problem develops and what causes it. They might like to know what resources already exist that can help. To them, the data allows them to hold an intervention with calm and poise.

We urge you to read through those pages to understand your own addiction, or use the information found to understand how to help someone you love. The knowledge you gain just might save a life.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formSubmit