How to Handle Substance Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

Substance abuse is an issue that touches all aspects of the hospitality industry. With almost one in five hospitality workers admitting to heavy use of alcohol and illicit drugs, this substance abuse can negatively affect hospitality businesses and the industry at large. 

Below you’ll learn the causes of substance abuse in the hospitality industry and how to curb excessive drug and alcohol use in the hospitality workplace.  Rather than taking on a zero-tolerance policy, hospitality management should take a proactive stance on preventing addiction in the workplace. Read on and learn more about substance abuse in the hospitality industry.

Substance Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

It is well known in the hospitality industry that workers in the field are more susceptible to substance abuse – both alcoholism and illicit drug use – than those employed in other industries. 

19.1% of hospitality workers have admitted to using illicit drugs in the past month, and over 16% of hospitality workers have dealt with substance abuse disorder. 80% of male hospitality workers engage in heavy alcohol use, while 64% of female hospitality workers drink heavily.

Causes of Substance Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

There are several reasons why substance abuse is significantly higher in the hospitality industry than in other professions. Here are a few of the main causes of substance abuse in the hospitality industry: 

  • Normalized substance abuse: One of the biggest disadvantages hospitality workers have when fighting substance abuse is the normalization of drug and alcohol use in the hospitality field. It is somewhat accepted that hospitality workers will use drugs and alcohol more than other workers, so workers are more likely to indulge.

  • Accessibility: Workers in the hospitality industry have more access to drugs and alcohol than the average person, especially those that work in a restaurant or a bar. Many hospitality workers bond through the communal use of drugs and alcohol, and make these substances available to each other. 

  • Hours: Hospitality workers are often expected to work long hours, double shifts, early shifts, and late-night shifts. This leads many of them to seek out recreational substances for relaxation or to increase their energy levels.

  • No barriers to employment: Unlike in other industries, hospitality management rarely requires their workers to undergo a drug test, and felons can easily walk into a kitchen or hotel job as long as they are willing to work hard. This makes it more likely that hospitality workers will freely engage in illegal activities like substance abuse. 

Hospitality workers are uniquely exposed to risk for substance abuse, and recreational drug and alcohol abuse can lead to serious consequences if it progresses into heavy use.

Consequences of Substance Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

When hospitality workers succumb to substance abuse, it can negatively impact their personal health and the industry itself. Here are a few serious consequences of substance abuse in the hospitality industry: 

  • Theft: Workers who are dealing with addiction and other substance abuse issues are more likely to commit theft against their workplace or their employers. They’re also more likely to commit theft against friends and family. Theft can eventually lead to a hospitality worker being arrested and charged, or fired from their place of employment.

  • High turnover: Hospitality workers burn out at a faster rate in part due to their hard and fast lifestyles, which often include recreational drug use. This high turnover can cause higher training costs for bars, restaurants, and hotels, and causes staffing issues if it becomes a prevalent issue in the workplace.

  • Interpersonal drama: Hospitality workers who are strung out on drugs and alcohol are more likely to make poor judgments regarding their coworkers. This can lead to increased amounts of interpersonal aggression and resentment in the workplace, as sober coworkers are left to take up the slack for their partying colleagues. 

  • Accidental overdoses: As many as one in five hospitality workers engage in illegal drug activity and heavy drinking, and this can inevitably lead to accidental overdoses and death. This can have a serious negative impact on coworkers and employers.

The negative consequences of substance abuse in the hospitality industry have far-reaching effects that go beyond lack of productivity in the workplace.

Curbing the Risks of Hospitality Substance Abuse

In hospitality management, there are several things that employers can do to help curb the risk of hospitality substance abuse issues in their workplace. These are some good ways to handle substance abuse if it shows up in your hospitality workplace: 

  • Take preventative measures. Using substance abuse screening tools, referring addicted employees to treatment centers, and providing health insurance can go a long way towards helping prevent employee loss due to substance abuse and addiction.

  • Replace shift drinks with other incentives. If the workplace has a free shift drink policy, this can encourage on-site drinking and lead to increasingly heavy drinking amongst the staff, putting them at risk for heavier substance abuse. Providing other incentives in the workplace can help take the sting out of removing shift alcohol privileges.

  • Enact policies against on-site drinking. While it isn’t necessarily a popular policy to require employees to do their drinking somewhere other than their place of employment, particularly among bar and restaurant employees, it does help curb the heavy staff drinking that can lead to substance abuse issues. Encourage socialization in other ways.

  • Encourage mental health dialogue. One of the reasons that substance abuse is so prevalent in hospitality is from high levels of physical stress, mental stress, depression, and burnout. Check with employees to make sure that they aren’t suffering from the kinds of mental issues that can lead employees to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. 

  • Set a positive example. If management engages in illicit drug abuse and heavy alcohol use around their subordinates, this can lead to an accepted culture of recreational drug use that can eventually lead to substance abuse. Management should be encouraged to be close with staff, but not party with them. 

Putting the above policies and workplace culture into place can help management make major strides in preventing the erosive effects of substance abuse in their employees.

Should Hospitality Employees Be Randomly Drug Tested?

Drug testing is one of the first methods that many hospitality managers fall back on when dealing with substance abuse in the industry, but scientific studies have shown that drug tests don’t adequately address the problems that lead to high rates of substance abuse among hospitality workers.

Instead, management should strive to address the core causes of substance abuse in the hospitality industry. 

It is likely that illicit drug use and alcohol use will continue to remain at high levels in the industry due to a cultural connection with hospitality, and most hospitality employees value their freedom when it comes to recreational drugs and alcohol. For this reason, it’s smarter to address substance abuse problems in the workplace on an employee-by-employee basis.

Substance Abuse in Hospitality Needs Compassion and Common Sense

Strict drug testing policies can drive the best hospitality workers away from the workplace if they’re enacted. It’s important for hospitality management to realize this fact and develop new ways to address and handle substance abuse in the workplace. 

By enacting the policies outlined above, management can help prevent serious addiction and substance abuse issues in their employees while also giving hospitality workers the freedom to do their job effectively and have fun doing it.

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