Roughly 23 million American adults will struggle with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. That’s almost ten percent of the population! Sadly, of those 23 million people 75% reported not having received any help at all.
Some people grow out of their addictions, some are able to help themselves, and some find that attending free 12-step programs in their area helps, but those shouldn’t be the only options available. Addiction treatment shouldn’t be a spa-like vacation for only the wealthy. There need to be more options for the working-class men and women of the United States.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of every age, ethnicity, and social class, but all too often the working-class gets priced out of attending quality addiction treatment programs, and with some treatment centers only taking private pay, and with the rising costs of healthcare and deductibles, this problem will only continue to get worse.
Risk Factors of Addiction
While anyone can become addicted to different substances and/or alcohol, there are certain risk factors that play a part in the complexity of one becoming addicted versus just using. These risk factors include:
- Family – Not only can genetics play a part in someone having an increased risk of addiction but family life, as well. Children that grow up in homes with common drug or alcohol use are more likely to also use it because that is their norm. Both nature and nurture have a role to play in addiction in the family.
- Stress – High levels of stress can cause a person to turn to different substances as a coping mechanism.
- Access and Quality of Healthcare – Many people that have restricted access to healthcare (either due to location or money) or can only access low quality healthcare tend to have health issues that go undiagnosed, which can lead to self-medication. People on Medicaid have often been prescribed opioids at higher doses and for longer periods of time, which can also lead to addiction.
- Mental Health – Nearly 50% of the people that experience a mental health disorder will also, at some point in their lives, have a substance use disorder. Environmental and social stressors can play a large role in different mental health disorders. These kinds of stressors can even make the brain more prone to addiction.
- Environment – Environments that do not promote play, exploration, and exercise can lead to higher risks of addiction. In fact, a team of researchers at the University of Texas in Galveston explored this at a molecular level. They concluded, “That the mild stressors and surmountable challenges presented by an enriched environment act to “inoculate” against stress, making individuals in those environments more resilient.”
While these risk factors can and do affect people from all walks of life, many times it is the people that are in the working-class or at the poverty level that is hit harder by these risk factors.
The Prevalence of Addiction in Blue-Collar Jobs
Blue-collar jobs reference jobs where people are performing hard, manual labor. They aren’t in suits and ties. They represent their own class of Americans that are seen as hard-working and the salt of the earth, but blue-collar workers are more affected by substance use disorders and alcohol misuse.
In Texas, 14.9% of the working population were considered to have blue-collar jobs like manufacturing, construction, mining, and logging. That’s almost 2 million people that work in these fields and are at a higher risk for substance use.
According to a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency) survey, construction workers displayed the second-highest rate of heavy alcohol use (more than 5-7 drinks on a single occasion) at 16.5% compared to a baseline rate of 8.7%. They came in second to mining, where the rate for heavy drinking was 17.5%. Construction workers represent 5.8% of the blue-collar workers in Texas.
Substance use disorders were no different. Over the 19 surveyed professions. The average overall was 8.6%. Construction workers reported a rate of 14.3%.
Substance misuse and heavy drinking can be especially dangerous for the blue-collar worker. Not only are they subjected to the regular ills and symptoms that every drug and alcohol user can experience, they also have demanding jobs. These jobs can often be dangerous and going into work hungover or under the influence can greatly increase workplace accidents or even death.
Why Is Substance Use So Prevalent Among the Blue-Collar Workers?
Many of the working-class, or blue-collar workers, suffer from some, if not all, of the risk factors listed above. Low wages can cause stress, and create a barrier to accessing quality healthcare. Because these jobs are so physically demanding, wear and tear on the body can cause people to self-medicate.
Drinking, especially in the United States, is seen as a cultural norm. With blue-collar workers, you have the “grab a beer with the guys after work” culture, as well.
In addition to these cultural norms and risk factors, there are also job-related reasons:
- Blue-collar jobs are often mundane and don’t challenge workers mentally.
- Long hours doing repetitive work leaves no time for other stimuli. In fact, research has suggested that people that regularly work over 48 hours were 11% times more likely to become heavy drinkers
- The combination of long hours coupled with routine work puts blue-collar workers at a higher risk.
- Many blue-collar jobs, like construction, have periods of downtime, either seasonal or waiting for the next job. The periods of downtime can leave a person without a purpose or sense of drive leading to substance abuse or heavy drinking.
- Blue-collar workers have a “work hard, play hard” culture that can lead to riskier behavior.
Why Is the Working-Class Getting Left Out?
The number one reason people do not attend rehab is due to cost.
The price of treatment alone is a deterrent, but even if an employee has insurance you have to deal with the rising costs of deductibles and many treatment centers are private pay, aren’t in-network, and/or do not take Medicaid.
But it is also more than just the cost.
- In today’s gig society, and with the prevalence of contract work, oftentimes workers are not afforded benefits like medical insurance.
- Due to the nature of shift work, people have trouble making it to outpatient treatments and can’t just rearrange their work schedules. Using FMLA to do an in-patient stay can be a better approach.
- Texas is a strong at-will state. This means that the employer or employee may discontinue the employment for any reason within the law. If your company is not covered by FMLA or has a drug treatment policy in place, taking off for 30 days isn’t an option for most.
- Many of the blue-collar workers today are living paycheck to paycheck. Just losing hours sometimes can cause a huge dent in their budget.
While the working class does have extra hurdles to deal with when receiving treatment, the long-run costs of substance use disorders are more costly. It may even mean that person’s life. The benefits of recovery outweigh the costs. Not only will that worker get their life back, but they will also be saving money from the costs of the addiction.
Credited to: Right step