The Connection Between Physical Labor and Substance Abuse

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Throughout my experience working in the substance abuse field, I’ve noticed that many of my clients have been people who work in the physical labor industry. From tree climbers to construction workers, roofers to stone masons, I’ve worked with them all. I started to wonder what the relationship was between working in the physical labor industry and developing a substance use disorder.

Research Trends

After researching and acknowledging past client experience, I came to the conclusion that there is a connection. My conclusion is well-founded as well. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found similar results in their 2015 by industry report. Thankfully, quite a few industries have seen reductions in the past 10 to 15 years in substance abuse among workers; however, the problem still remains. Construction, mining, utilities, and manufacturing all have high rates of substance abuse. But why?

Why the Physical Labor Industry

Working in the physical labor industry puts a lot of strain on the body. I’ve worked with clients whose knees were a wreck by the time they were 50 years old. Being physically fatigued or in pain every single day makes people in the physical labor industry highly susceptible to opiate use disorders, since opiates are used for pain relief. Without proper management and care, a simple prescription to can lead to an addiction.

Many people in the physical labor industry seem to use substances as a way to “unwind” after a long day or “reward” their hard work. It’s not uncommon for crews to go out for drinks at the end of the day. If you’re in recovery from a substance use disorder, this can be a really tricky thing to navigate, and perhaps push you back into the cycle of addiction.

Avoiding Addiction

There are several ways to avoid the pitfalls of relapse while still practicing your profession. Being in pain or fatigued doesn’t have to lead to opiate use! Working with a doctor, physical therapist, and/or chiropractor may help those in pain from physical labor identify alternative ways to manage chronic pain. Start by calling your doctor to schedule a physical examination so that he or she can identify problem areas that need to be addressed.

Working with a counselor can help you identify other ways of rewarding your hard work. It can also help you set boundaries with coworkers who may trigger you to relapse. To begin working with a therapist who specializes in substance use disorders, contact Rehab After Work today.


Article Written by Shaylyn Forte, LPC, CAADC