Substance abuse
Substance abuse

Sobering Facts about Substance Abuse in Construction

Substance abuse is a big problem for construction employees. In fact, a 2015 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) concluded that the construction industry has more drug and alcohol abuse than any other sector except for hospitality and food service.1 According to the study, among full-time construction workers:

  • 16.5% (1.6 million people) reported drinking heavily in the previous month (heavy drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight or more for women).2
  • 11.6% (1.1 million people) said they had used illicit drugs (marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, opioids and others) in the past month.
  • 14.3% (1.4 million people) reported addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

Do the numbers make you uncomfortable? 

They should. When employees come to work under the influence—or even just hungover—they may make poor decisions, act recklessly, disregard safety practices or take other unnecessary risks. The result? Accidents, injuries, maybe even fatalities.

Even if things don’t escalate to that level, substance abuse can affect productivity. Employees who struggle with addiction may miss shifts, come in late or have trouble completing tasks on time. And that will jeopardize your ability to do quality work on schedule and within budget.

Why construction?

It’s hard to know exactly why the construction industry is so susceptible to substance abuse. The fact that more than 90% of construction workers are male likely plays a role. According to the SAMHSA study, males are more apt to consume alcohol, have drinking problems, use illicit drugs and develop substance abuse disorders.

But there are other factors at play as well. The nature of some construction jobs—long days filled with repetitive tasks—may contribute to substance abuse. Some workers use alcohol, opioids and other drugs to numb the physical pain that accompanies manual labor. And in some companies, it’s common for groups of workers to head to a bar after work to cool off, relax and socialize.

Creating a sober workplace

There’s no simple way to keep drugs and alcohol off the job site, but experts recommend taking action on several fronts.

  • Education. Help workers understand the grave risks they are assuming when they use drugs or alcohol on the job or come to work high or hungover. Teach them to identify the signs of substance abuse so they can recognize co-workers who may be under the influence. 
  • Support. Create an environment in which employees who are struggling with addiction can ask for and be directed to professional help.
  • Testing. Use drug testing as needed to screen potential employees and manage your current team. Be upfront about your program. Help people understand it’s a precautionary measure designed to protect everyone from danger. Perform the testing under the supervision of a licensed physician who can interpret the results and provide other relevant information about the applicant or employee’s health.
  • Culture. Host alcohol-free team-building events instead—things like family picnics, volunteer activities, hikes, fantasy sports leagues or trivia contests.

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Get resources and get started

For help developing a substance abuse prevention program, check out the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace. Formed in 2012 by some of the biggest players in the industry including The Associated General Contractors of America, Construction Industry Roundtable and Women Construction Owners & Executives, this coalition now includes more than 5,700 organizations. Each has taken a pledge to foster sobriety in the workplace and throughout the construction industry. Resources and information are available at


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