Trusted Content

Addiction In The Hospitality Industry

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 5, 2019

The hospitality industry is ranked among the highest in the United States for heavy drinking, illicit drug abuse, and substance use disorders. Leaving the hospitality industry to get sober is not an option for most people, but recovering from addiction can still be possible with an individualized rehab treatment.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.

Whether someone develops an addiction or not will depend on the amount of a drug they use, their age, height, and sometimes, their environment, and the social acceptance of using that drug. These environments might include a person’s home, community, circle of friends, or place of employment.

Addiction Among Hospitality Employees

In a workplace environment where breaks are few and far between, patrons are drinking excessively, and late night hours are the norm, it might not come as a surprise to find that the hospitality industry often fosters addiction. That’s partly because the industry is one of the most fast-paced, stressful environments, and it requires employees to work while everyone else is celebrating.

In hospitality, people are expected to be focused and energetic. Sometimes achieving these traits can be nearly impossible, when life gets the best of you. If your job depends on it, you may be likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol to loosen up, or perhaps to seem more friendly and energetic.

A survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration from 2008 to 2012 estimated that nearly 17 percent of accommodations and food service employees between the ages of 18 and 64 had some sort of substance use disorder. In other words, their drinking or drug use caused problems with work, school, relationships, or health.

The hospitality industry can be really fun to work in, and also teaches people life lessons about patience, tolerance, consistency, time management, and attention to detail. The downside is that hospitality also grants the opportunity to party after a shift, or even during a shift.

Signs Of Substance Abuse Within The Hospitality Industry

It’s estimated that one in four professionals has personal knowledge of a coworker using drugs on the job. Some signs of substance abuse within the hospitality industry are:

  • red, watery, bloodshot eyes
  • little to no appetite
  • hyperactivity—followed by sluggishness
  • shakiness
  • unusual laziness
  • problems sleeping
  • smelling of alcohol or other unusual odors
  • frequently calling in sick due to “stomach problems”
  • consistently staying after for a nightcap, or shift drink
  • mood swings—irritability or hostile attitude
  • talking about drinking or drug use after shift
  • inability to focus on task at hand
  • inconsistency in performance
  • spending an excessive amount of time in the bathroom
  • inability to carry their own workload

A person who’s struggling with an alcohol use disorder might frequently experience flu-like symptoms and call in sick. People struggling with drug use may get high while on the job, and experience work performance problems, such as messing up orders or other tasks.

virtual care

Get treatment when
and how you need it.

Substances Abused By Hospitality Professionals

Some hospitality professionals use opioid painkillers for minor pain, or amphetamines for the energy boost—sometimes they just take the drugs to get high, though. Others might use alcohol, or benzodiazepines to sleep after a late night shift. Some people even use cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin for stimulating effects or the euphoria the drugs produce.

The hospitality industry revolves around libations, celebration, and a party atmosphere. The majority of hospitality employees aren’t abusing drugs or alcohol, but the opportunity is almost always there.

Hospitality Professionals And Alcohol Dependence

A light to moderate amount of alcohol is believed to help a person wind down at the end of the night, but use of alcohol in this manner can become a coping mechanism or habit. Soon after, drinking can become a problem. When use turns to abuse, people find quitting alcohol difficult. Using any alcohol to cope increases risk of tolerance, alcohol dependence, accidents, and other adverse consequences, like heart disease.

From 2008 to 2012, the hospitality industry was ranked third for heavy drinking, and 11.8 percent of employees practiced binge drinking at least five times a month. Food service ranked just under the mining and construction industries for heavy drinking.

At certain establishments, it might be common practice to be offered an alcoholic drink (for those old enough) at the end of a shift. This offer is intended for tasting of new products, or fellowship with guests and coworkers. Hospitality professionals may have a shift drink to start, then spend a considerable amount of their day’s earnings on alcohol. Not everyone abuses alcohol in this way, but shift drinks can feed alcohol dependence in the hospitality industry.

Hospitality Professionals And Prescription Drug Abuse

Used for their legitimate, medical purpose, prescription drugs help people manage pain, anxiety, depression, attention deficits, and countless other physical and mental health problems. When a person uses someone else’s prescription to self-medicate for the symptoms, or to get high, an addiction may develop.

Once addicted to a prescription drug, people don’t just need the drug to get through the shift, they need it to feel normal, and begin to find little happiness without it.

Prescription drugs are used for many reasons, but there are 6,600 people in the United States trying them every day for non-medical reasons. Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the hospitality industry are:

  • Adderall
  • Tramodol
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Suboxone
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Ambien

Hospitality Professionals And Illicit Drug Use

The hospitality industry ranked the highest for people using illicit drugs, with 19.1 percent from 2008 to 2012. Addiction can happen to anybody, and some people maintain their drug use better than others. Even if someone is a close friend, you may find it difficult to identify drug abuse.

The majority of people using illicit drugs will start to show mental, physical, social, and behavioral signs. Some of these signs include obsessing over the drug, losing/gaining weight, losing teeth, hanging out with new people, and only doing things that revolve around drug use.

Some of the most common illicit drugs used in the hospitality industry are:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Crack
  • Ecstasy or Molly
  • LSD
  • Mushrooms

Dangers Of Substance Abuse At Work

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2015, there were 92,670 injuries in the hospitality industry and 78,560 injuries in the food service industry. Not all of these injuries resulted from drug or alcohol abuse, but many of them were related to it.

Addiction in hospitality can contribute to assault in the workplace, theft, sexual assault, lost business and lost lives. The hospitality industry has an incredibly high turnover rate, so employees struggling with addiction can easily be replaced, even if what they need are care and support.

Abusing drugs or alcohol in the workplace doesn’t just hurt the person doing it—it reflects poorly on the hotel or restaurant, and often contributes to inconsistent work, and loss of patrons. As result, the employer or owner might see an employee with addiction as a liability. Thus, there’s a high risk of losing your job after coming in high or drunk—even if you don’t lose your job the first time it happens.

Overcoming Addiction In The Hospitality Industry

The first step of recovery for anyone is to admit that there’s a problem with drugs. This isn’t always easy to do aloud, though a lot of people who struggle with addiction know that they have a problem well before their life spins out of control.

As a friend, employer, or coworker of someone suffering from addiction, it might help to consider an intervention to help them overcome their problem with drugs or alcohol. This will also give loved ones an opportunity to rally around their friend, explain how addiction is affecting them, and suggest that they need to get help.

Interventions are not always easy, and most of the time they will be met with force and defensiveness, but the emotional shell of addiction can be cracked—especially with a caring, and gentle manner. Hiring a professional interventionist may help take the focus off your friend, so the intervention focuses solely on the problem of addiction.

Addiction Treatment For The Hospitality Professional

According to SAMHSA, in 2013, 22.7 million people 12 or older needed treatment for a problem with illicit drugs or alcohol. Of these, 2.5 million received treatment at a specialty facility. In other words, 20.2 million people who needed treatment for addiction didn’t get it.

Inpatient drug rehab programs use methods to help a person learn to respond to their surroundings rather than react to them. Various treatment methods teach patients to cope with trauma, past feelings and behaviors, injury, stress, anxiety, and depression without resorting to drugs and alcohol.

People in the hospitality or restaurant industry may struggle with the idea of seeking treatment for addiction, but making this choice can ultimately save lives as well as careers.

Some of the best treatment types for a person working in hospitality are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Mindfulness and Stress Management
  • Aftercare Support
  • Support Groups

Medical Detoxification

Medical detox can give a patient a clean slate to start their recovery. It’s one of the most successful ways to overcome the physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms from opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates. Trying to receive treatment for addiction to any of these drugs without first completing detoxification makes the treatment less effective.

In some cases, medical detoxification will be required as part of treatment. Some physical withdrawal symptoms treated in detox include:

  • nausea
  • shaking
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • seizures

Inpatient drug rehab professionals help clients get through detoxification, which can be the most painful part of recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that helps a patient change their behaviors, attitudes, and coping skills to avoid relapse while overcoming the urge to use drugs. CBT is widely utilized to help people with addiction and co-occurring depression, social anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorders. This method helps people from all walks of life to avoid situations or ideas that used to make them want to get high.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was designed to help people with borderline personality disorder, but now DBT has become a cornerstone of addiction treatment. DBT uses mindfulness techniques, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness to help clients replace problematic behaviors.

Mindfulness And Stress Management

Mindfulness and Stress Management is a program that can help you with issues that you were previously unable to overcome without drugs or alcohol. Stress is one of the largest contributors to substance abuse in the hospitality industry; thus mindfulness practices are intended to treat stress by promoting balance, and awareness of one’s inner thoughts and surroundings. Mindfulness often includes meditation and breathing practices. Other mindfulness techniques that have proven to help people suffering from addiction are yoga, body awareness, and prayer.

Outpatient Drug Rehab For Hospitality Employees

Outpatient Drug Rehab works best when it follows an inpatient rehab, under a step-down structure. Sometimes going right back into the environment where an addiction began can be risk, and can result in a relapse. Thus, an outpatient treatment helps reintroduce clients into the workforce, while teaching techniques for living sober.

Successful Recovery Without Leaving The Hospitality Industry

It can be hard to go back to your old life and career, even after you learn how to stay clean. When you’re fresh out of rehab, a full recovery can be one of the biggest challenges.

SAMHSA’s working definition of recovery is

“a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”

Recovery is improving your health, home, purpose, and community with a main goal to remain sober.

Recovery doesn’t end when detoxification is over, or when you get home from an inpatient drug rehab program. Recovery lasts a lifetime, and though it may get easier over time, addiction is still a chronic disease, and there isn’t necessarily a cure for it.

How To Pay For Addiction Treatment

Overcoming addiction can save you money in the long run, but coming up with the money to pay for rehab may not be easy. Losing your job to go to rehab probably isn’t an option.

Here are a few suggestions to help you pay for rehab:

  • insurance coverage
  • government grants and financial aid
  • sliding fees
  • borrowing money
  • state or government programs

Telling your boss that you need to go to rehab can be embarrassing, and you might have an underlying fear of getting fired. Asking your employer or human resources department about the Family Medical Leave Act—which ensures that you won’t lose your job to go to rehab—may help.

No matter what happens, beating addiction is the most important step right now, and it might even save your life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction in the hospitality industry, contact us to learn more.

American Society of Addiction Medicine - Definition of Addiction

Boston University School of Hospitality Administration - Rethinking Substance Use and Abuse Among Hospitality Employees

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Misuse of Prescription Drugs

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Substance Use And Substance Use Disorder By Industry

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Working Definition of Recovery

U.S. Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics

University of Nevada Hospitality Review - Drug Abuse in the Hospitality Industry

Want to get help, but not ready to talk?

You can receive 24/7 text support right away and at your convenience. There is no obligation to enter treatment and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support to receive:

✅ Resources about addiction and recovery

✅ Info about our treatment process

"*" indicates required fields


Let Regard Healthcare walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help
100% Free and Confidential. Call 888-341-4325

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:


For Immediate Treatment Help Call:
(888) 979-9592