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The Link Between Workplace Stress and Drug Abuse


Workplace stress is not only prevalent, especially in high-level positions, but also often leads to substance use to cope. From high-level executives to emergency responders, substance use prevails as a way to cope with the demands and stress of work expectations. With such a high demand placed on productivity, reliance on external sources (including drugs and alcohol) are not completely surprising.


Unfortunately, substance abuse may go undetected for a long time, with people often using so much and so often that their “normal” is actually under the influence, making it difficult to detect when a person is using. From needing uppers to keep up with a fast pace to downers to relax, substances are a common tool used to keep symptoms associated with stress away. 


Stressors in the Workplace

Workplace stress exists across the board, from overwhelming assignments to managerial conflicts. Job stress can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Lack of proper training
  • Poor organization
  • Performance expectations and specific requirements
  • Excessive or overwhelming responsibility
  • Lack of support
  • Miscommunication
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Personal danger
  • Pressure from other employees, patients, or client’s needs
  • Night shifts or long shifts 

Several jobs are exceptionally high stress in nature and have a high rate of substance abuse within the workplace.


Some of the most stressful careers include:

  • Corporate executives
  • Attorneys
  • Stockbrokers
  • Real estate brokers
  • First responders
  • Doctors and nurses

Feelings that Come with Stress

Stress can be described as feeling anxious, overwhelmed, worried, and fatigued. There are typically two categories of stress: acute and chronic stress. Acute stress may be caused by a deadline and typically goes away once the stressor is removed. Unfortunately, chronic stress lasts for an extended period and remains unresolved even after the initial stressor appears to be resolved.


When a person is suffering from workplace stress, specifically chronic stress, they may also experience other emotional or mental distress. This may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep and sleep disturbances
  • Increased stress response
  • Lack of focus
  • Poor memory
  • Poor decision making 

Many people turn to substance use to deal with stress, choosing to numb themselves as a way of coping. Unfortunately, this behavior makes it easy to build a tolerance, quickly leading to addiction.


Health Risks of Stress and Substance Use

Both stress and substance use alike can cause serious damage to your body along with long-term health issues. Substance abuse compounds health issues and creates a vicious cycle, making it harder to work and increasing stress.

Some of the health risks caused by stress are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Migraines
  • Sleep disruption
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Muscular pain
  • Back problems
  • Mood disorders

Healthy Stress Management

Healthy stress management and effective treatment of substance abuse can turn a life around when things have become too out of hand. There are many ways to find stress relief that are both good for your health and mind.

Safe, healthy ways to relieve stress include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Unwind with breaks and time off
  • Talk with others, connect with friends, family, and your community
  • Eat healthy well-balanced meals
  • Make time for hobbies and arts
  • Learn new things, explore passions
  • Practice slowing down; yoga, rest, meditation
  • Spend time in nature
  • Seek help from professionals 

Learn how the team at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry can help with substance abuse, addiction, and co-occurring disorders. Speak with a member of our New York psychiatric team to get started with treatment options individually tailored to fit the needs of executives and professionals.

Recently featured in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors issue, Dr. Glazer has been recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2015.