Drug Use In The Restaurant Industry


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents

Understanding Addiction Rates In Restaurant Workers

A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has shown some shocking results regarding substance abuse in different industries.

When it comes to heavy alcohol use by service workers in the past month, the restaurant industry lands at third place with a rate of 11.8%. Since alcohol is a drug as well, it is of utmost concern that most of these workers were under the legal age of drinking, ranging from 18-64 years.

Furthermore, with the rate of 19.1%, the industry landed on top of the list for the use of illicit drugs in the past month.

Considering these statistics, it is only expected that the restaurant industry workforce would consist of individuals suffering from mental health disorders. In the same study, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 17% of this workforce suffers from a substance abuse disorder.

The high addiction rates in the industry impose a tricky question; what is causing this drug abuse?

Why Does The Restaurant Industry Have Such A High Rate Of Drug Abuse?

Genetic disposition, home environment, and personal issues are crucial in triggering an addiction. However, when it comes to the restaurant industry, many individuals tend to succumb to drug abuse because of their work.

Some common reasons are;

High Stress And Hard Work

Working in the food industry is a fast-paced job. With many customers coming in, the workers must create a speedy routine of taking orders, remembering specifications, communicating to the c and then delivering on time.

We expect a hot, fresh meal to be presented whenever we go out to eat, but behind this meal is a worker running to fulfill ten orders at once in due time, so the customers do not become impatient and complain.

That alone is highly stressful for more than 8 hours a day. Let alone the physical strain it causes to be on your feet, running back and forth continuously. People often depend on drugs to relieve their physical and mental pain in highly stressful situations.

Low Wages

The restaurant industry has low wages. Most workers make $10 an hour, which is $8 below the minimum wage of any other industry. The lack of money in the field makes it difficult for many workers to make ends meet—especially those who are sole earners for their families or have other people dependent on them.

Financially struggling while dealing with other injustices in the field can leave the workers feeling demotivated, hopeless, and eventually looking for a stress-reliever.

Young Workers

Most of the workers in the food industry are students who are working part-time to make ends meet. It is pretty standard for 16-18 years old to look for a summer job to save money for moving out after high school.

However, young workers are rarely suitable for these roles. For beginners, these high-stress environments tend to cause more mental health issues in younger people than adults. This is because, at a very young age, they become accustomed to rude customers, overburden, excessive physical tiredness, and all the while, they barely get paid anything.

If a young individual starts working at a restaurant with an older person, they are likely influenced by them. The more senior employee dealing with any substance abuse disorder will also be taught to the younger ones to help them “relieve their stress.”

Irregular Schedules 

Overtime is a common occurrence in this industry and is regularly unpaid. Since the restaurants and cafes’ rush hour never ends, the workers are expected to stay beyond their contracted times to help out their peers.

Moreover, most of these schedules include very small or no breaks. This means that workers spend 10-12 hours a day with minimum food in their bodies and constant physical exertion.


Whenever work friends/peers decide to spend time together outside work, they usually choose to get drinks. It has become a cultural norm to go out for drinks with friends after a long shift at work, to celebrate, or to relax.

This cultural norm creates a habit of casually drinking, leading to drug addiction.

Low Supervision From Management

Once an individual starts using drugs commonly, they indulge in them throughout the day, taking small doses or a few sips at a time.

In some restaurants, there is little supervision from restaurant management, so there is no hesitance or resistance to stop the users from falling deeper into the spiral of addiction.

Access To Alcohol At Work

Many restaurants serve alcohol with their meals. A separate menu is provided to the customers with a wide variety of alcohol options. These varieties are heavily stocked up, and all the workers can easily access them whenever possible.

Additionally, with no supervision from management, the workers can drink these bottles at work or sneak some away to use later. With such easy and free access, a high-stress worker must rely on substances to relax.

Peer Pressure 

Workers suffering from substance abuse disorders tend to encourage others to join them while using these substances.

Even if the purpose of the invitation is to feel less lonely, it is still a fact that this type of pressure happens. 

Peers might even force individuals into joining them for drinks after work as an excuse to hang out with them.

How Can Rehab Help Treat Addiction in Restaurant Workers?

Like any other substance abuse disorder, treatment is essential in the early stages. Signing yourself or your loved ones up for rehab is the most effective treatment method.

When restaurant workers register for rehab, they will be removed from the environment that is causing the reason for their abuse. We discussed the reasons above, most of which are working in the restaurant industry.

However, staying away from the environment, its people, and its horrible structure can reduce the stress or desire of wanting to use drugs.

During rehab, recognizing their abuse might motivate workers to find a job in a different industry that does not expose them to addiction triggers.

It will also give them a chance to truly rest their body, mind, and soul while working towards improving their health.

How to Get Help for Addiction?

Suppose you believe you or a loved one suffer from a substance abuse disorder. In that case, it is crucial to reach out for help so you can be diagnosed and treated accordingly.

Cornerstone Healing Center is a rehab center that ensures that the treatment of the patients is done under utmost care. We help our clients overcome their weaknesses and adopt new life-saving habits.


[1] Low Wages and Few Benefits Mean Many Restaurant Workers Can’t Make Ends Meet

[2] Addiction in the Restaurant Industry – Statistics & Treatment


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Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with 8 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the GCU College of Theology. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director



Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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