The hospitality industry as a breeding ground for substance abuse

To the guest, it all looks so nice. There’s attractive décor, great food and charming folks who seem to be thrilled to do your bidding. What could be wrong with a job in the hospitality industry? You may even end up working in an exotic location showing the rich and famous a good time.

Unfortunately, there is a whole lot going on that customers will never know about. Long hours, high stress, low pay, and lack of compliance with labor law are only a few of the problems this industry is riddled with.  Author of the book “Kitchen Confidential”, Anthony Bourdain says that the hospitality industry is “drenched in drugs and alcohol,” and this insider view is supported by the facts.

Federal survey finds high frequency of substance abuse in the hospitality industry

The abuse of alcohol is no real surprise. After all, the hospitality industry serves up a lot of booze, and staffers such as barmen are expected to partake. But illicit drug use is common too. The Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration found that illicit drug use is higher in the hospitality industry than any other, and hospitality workers get third place in the heavy drinking stakes, just below miners and construction workers. Other studies contradicted this finding, saying that hospitality workers were far likelier to be heavy drinkers than those in any other industry.

Food services get the worst figures. 19.1% of food workers will have used illegal drugs at least once in any given month, and 16.9% of food service workers have a substance abuse disorder. That’s way more than one would expect to see in any other industry. It isn’t just the overworked and underpaid junior level foodies that turn to drugs. Food celebrity Nigella Lawson was banned from travelling to the US after her admission that she had used cocaine and marijuana in the past.

Sacramento chef explains why it happens

Hospitality work is exhausting and stressful, says professional chef John Puckett. He’s a recovered substance abuser who collapsed on the job after combing alcohol with speed and LSD. After surviving hospitalization, he entered rehabilitation, and has been clean for more than a decade, but he says the temptation is still there. These days, he’s very careful to avoid jobs that might trigger a relapse.

He says that the tiring conditions and a sense of camaraderie mean that hospitality workers often party hard to let off steam, and long hours have them passing on amphetamines just to help each other get through another day. Once the shift is over, “checking out mentally” with the help of substances is often the only way to unwind enough to get some sleep. The combination of high pressure work and drug availability keeps the hospitality industry top of the list for substance abuse problems.

Anonymous Michelin restaurant chef says hospitality industry is rife with employee abuse and drug use

The Guardian interviewed a chef who says that even the fanciest establishments are riddled with employment law contraventions, alcohol binges, assault, and drug abuse. Once again, the stressful atmosphere created by client expectations features in the story, but he says that the financial problems of underpaid hospitality workers could contribute to the overall malaise. Without a union to back them up, hospitality workers take what they get, and compensate for their troubles with alcohol and drug use.

Australian study says abuse of legal drugs is also more prevalent in hospitality workers

An Australian study found that hospitality workers and blue-collar workers were more likely to abuse addictive painkillers and other pharmaceuticals. The study was based on self-reported patterns from participants, and its authors believe that the real figures for prescription drug abuse are probably much higher than those reported. Many people would simply keep quiet about the problem for fear of attracting unwanted attention to themselves.

Bearing in mind that long hours on one’s feet in uncomfortable working conditions could promote painkiller use to ease aches and pains, it’s hardly surprising that this can easily turn into abuse or addiction.

Drug and alcohol use in hospitality is “extensive”

Whether as a result of extreme job pressure, or client’s expectations that staffers should “join the party”, the majority of respondents in a survey published in a hospitality industry journal said that drug and alcohol use were “extensive” in the industry. Workers in their thirties seemed to be among those worst affected by the trend, but since the majority of hospitality industry employees fall into this age-group, both older and younger employees are likely to face the same temptations and problems.

Work pressure and environment will always be factors in drug and alcohol abuse

The higher your workplace pressures, and the greater the availability of drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to feel the need to “zone out” after hours. Long working hours also promote painkiller and stimulant abuse, since staying awake and pain-free are often among the survival priorities workers seek to address through drug use. Hospitality employers are often highly demanding, expecting double shifts and unimpaired customer service from overtired employees.

It’s already a well-known fact that chefs are among the professionals with the lowest life-expectancy. Now the shocking facts about drug and alcohol abuse in the hospitality industry as a whole are coming to light. Ethical employers are seeking ways to reduce pressure, and 70% are willing to contribute to rehabilitation interventions, at least, that’s what they’re telling researchers.

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