Substance Dependency in the Workplace

Most people struggling with substance dependency are fully functional and successful community members. This article aims to inform you about which workplaces experience the highest rates of substance use, the policies, and procedures surrounding use in the workplace, as well as the future of this ongoing situation.

We, at Pacifica, hope this information will help others learn about how substance use is handled in the workplace, what rights are afforded to you, as well as resources that can offer you further insights.

How Covid Changed the Workplace

The workplace has changed. An unforeseen trend that developed from the Covid-19 pandemic – is that a much larger percentage of the population is working from home. This opportunity has allowed millions to continue working but has acted as a catalyst for an even more troubling substance use problem in Canada.

Now, more Canadians than ever can work without anyone looking over their shoulder or enforcing the typical office rules and regulations. If an individual had a pre-existing problem with substance dependency, now there is even less to prevent them from consuming while working.

It is still up for debate how long workplaces will offer remote work. As more people start getting called back to work, it may shed light on a worsened substance use problem that has been, temporarily, hidden at home.

Sectors That Have The Highest Rates Of Substance Misuse

If someone were to ask you which industries have the highest rates of substance misuse amongst employees – what would you guess? In some cases, the answer is obvious, and in others, you might be surprised.

What if we told you that the following were industries with some of the highest incidences of substance misuse in the workplace:[NH1]

Service Industry (waiters/chefs/bartenders)

Servers and restaurant staff are particularly at risk of SUDs due to the fact that nearly every restaurant or dining establishment serves some form of alcohol. Add to this, the social behavior of drinking after work to blow off steam after a stressful shift, as well as being encouraged by patrons to join in on drinking.

Construction / Mining / Forestry

These three professions experience very similar work environments that put workers at an increased risk of SUDs. These worksites are typically isolated, either outside of the city or in some cases, very remote locations.

The secondary risk factors are due to the nature of the job, a high occurrence of on-the-job injuries, paired with a lack of recovery time that leads to a dependency on prescription drugs. This is a dangerous cycle. You don’t have the rest you need to recover, so your injury persists, meaning you require more painkillers. Eventually your tolerance to these prescriptions increases and forces you to need an increasing dose to feel the effects.

Corporate Management

High-level management positions, especially in the corporate world, are incredibly demanding, high-stress positions that place a tremendous amount of responsibility on one person. Pair this with the inability or unwillingness to take time off, corporate managers have a high risk of developing a substance use disorder.


Substance dependency among Lawyers and associates is often multifaceted. Social engagements after work hours are very common and encouraged to network and destress. There is a culture of perfectionism amongst lawyers, where people are expected to work endless hours, maintain an impeccable record, perform under pressure, and potentially have the fate of people’s lives in their hands. SUDs often develop as a means to destress or stay energized.

Doctors and Healthcare Workers

Health professionals have some of the most overwhelming work schedules of any profession. Every day likely forces them to resolve tremendous challenges, and the level at which they perform their job can mean saving someone’s life, or not. This heavy, emotional, and mental burden can create a dire need for some form of escape. Not to mention, this profession has easy access to prescription medications and other controlled substances.

These industries are very different from one to the next, and the socio-economic status of the employees is broad. Despite that, you may notice some similarities. All these professions are high-stress, fast-paced, and very physically and mentally demanding. This revelation allows people to understand that the struggle of substance misuse is often a lot closer to them than they realize.

What is the “Duty To Accommodate”?

If workplaces want a healthy and constructive way to help their employees, the first step is to eliminate the stigma surrounding substance use disorders (SUDs). There should be safe and easy steps to come forward for help at work, free of judgment and reprimand – allowing individuals to get the help they need while remaining a valued part of the team.

Canada has taken steps towards this, by categorizing SUDs as a disability. As such, individuals are protected against discrimination in the workplace and subject to a “Duty To Accommodate”. In other words, if an employee struggles with substances, the employer has a legal duty to accommodate them. This can take the form of the employer providing support to enable the employee to remain in the workplace, secure treatment, or return to work after recovery.

The most common substances used in the workplace are:

  • Alcohol or legal drugs (which includes cannabis as of October 17, 2018)
  • Illegal drugs
  • Prescription drugs
  • Over-the-counter medications


The Future of Substance Dependency in the Workplace

Here at Pacifica, we encourage businesses to take a more compassionate, supportive stance towards substance misuse. There is a clear path that businesses can take that leads to a positive outcome for everyone involved. Awareness is the most powerful tool to dismantle the stigma surrounding substance misuse in the workplace. As the conversation around this topic grows, it should inspire more people to come forward and seek treatment for SUDs.

What can an employer do?

1. Develop and implement policies and procedures on substance use and safety issues. Areas to address include:

    • Alcohol and other drug use related to the workplace
    • How to recognize troubled employees
    • Support for treatment and recovery

2. Regularly review workplace practices and make changes to minimize the risk

    • Promote individual responsibility and safety
    • Conduct routine safety audits

3. Build an environment of inclusion

4. Involve employees in developing policies and guidelines

5. Provide Information. Employers that provide the key information to employees about how their existing benefits, accessible community programs, and other online and in-person resources exist to help them care for their own health.


Substance Dependency Treatment Available in Vancouver, British Columbia

Pacifica encourages community members to “own their path” to self-discovery, self-empowerment, and self-actualization. We provide in-residence treatment and community-based services for individuals experiencing problematic substance use, in conjunction with concurrent mental health concerns and trauma.

Our community member’s journey may continue beyond treatment with our Continuing Care Program, Alumni Support & Services, and external referrals to community resources for ongoing services and supports.

Whether you are an employer looking for private treatment (for staff and colleagues) or an individual in need of in-residence support, please reach out to us. You can reach the Pacifica Treatment Centre, by calling our offices, reaching out online or visiting our website!

Leave a Reply

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