Addiction and Stress in the Workplace

Addiction and Stress in the Workplace

Job-related stress can have severe impacts on those that experience it, and these can be far-reaching, debilitating mental health effects. The toll from workplace stress can easily lead people to search for any stress-relief tactic to help them get through the day.

One potential outcome of severe stress in the workplace is turning to alcohol and/or drug use as a coping mechanism. Though dependence and the development of a substance use disorder is often a gradual process, it can create a spiral that is unfortunately hard to escape without support.

Defining Workplace Stress

A survey found that 40% of workers report their job as very or extremely stressful, and 25% of employees consider their job as the main stressor in their lives. That points to work-related stress as a growing problem in America that affects not only the emotional well-being of employees but also their physical health.

Job stress is generally defined as any harmful physical and emotional responses that happen when your job requirements do not match your resources, capabilities, or needs. Compounding job stress can lead to impaired mental and physical health and even possible injury.

It is important to note that there is a difference between workplace stress and workplace challenges. Workplace challenges can serve to energize the worker physically and psychologically, creating motivation to learn new skills and become a master of the job. Once the challenge has been met, you are likely to feel satisfied and relaxed with your efforts.

Ultimately, challenges are critical to a productive workplace and should not be confused with workplace stress. Challenges, however, become an issue when they are impossible to achieve. This creates a sense of struggle without any subsequent feelings of accomplishment, causing a loop of unresolved stress.

Causes of Workplace Stress

It is generally accepted that workplace stress results from how the worker interacts with the conditions of their workplace. Beliefs differ regarding the primary cause of job stress, whether it originates with worker characteristics or working conditions. It’s important to note that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health takes the stand that working conditions play a major part in causing workplace stress.

It is true, however, that different employees are unlikely to respond in the same way as others to the same circumstances. This can make it difficult to pinpoint the exact conditions that are more likely to cause workplace stress. Some of the factors that are commonly believed to contribute to workplace stress include the following:

  • Heavy workloads
  • Long hours
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Inflexible and tight deadlines
  • Bad management practices
  • Abrupt changes to duties
  • Job insecurity
  • Little room for promotion or advancement
  • Insufficient skills for the job
  • Lack of proper resources and equipment
  • Harassment and discrimination
  • Poor workplace relationships
  • Unpleasant environmental conditions like overcrowding and pollution
  • Crisis incidents, like a robbery or workplace death

These inferior workplace conditions can be exacerbated by individual factors like a poor work-life balance and a flimsy support network of family and friends. These will contribute to an overall negative outlook that will be more easily affected by workplace stressors.

Stressors cause chemical responses in your brain

Risks of Workplace Stress

Stressors cause chemical responses in your brain that prepare your body for defensive action. When a stressful situation occurs, the nervous system is activated, and hormones are released, sharpening the senses, deepening respiration, quickening the pulse, and tensing the muscles. These systems will revert to a neutral state once the stressor is resolved. As a result, isolated, infrequent, or short-lived episodes of stress will generally pose little risk to workers.

Issues arise when these situations go unresolved, causing the body to remain in a constant state of activation that causes wear and tear on the biological and emotional systems that respond to stress. Constant activation is likely to result in fatigue or damage to the body’s ability to defend and repair itself, increasing the likelihood of injury or disease. It can also cause mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and more. Workplace stress can have debilitating effects, but it is vital that you remember that you are not to blame for your stress responses.

Early physical signs of workplace stress include sleep disturbances, headache, difficulty concentrating, and low morale. Other symptoms to potentially arise from chronic workplace stress can be broken into three categories and include the following:


  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscular tension
  • Gastrointestinal upsets
  • Dermatological disorders


  • Aggression
  • Reduced work quality
  • Disinterest and isolation
  • Diminished initiative and creativity


  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Pessimism
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Inability to make decisions

You may also experience an increased likelihood of being harmed in a workplace accident. If you or one of your coworkers is experiencing workplace stress, there may be less care and consideration made during dangerous processes. This puts everyone on the team at risk of harm, so it is important that you learn to recognize these potential signs of workplace stress in yourself and your coworkers.

Alleviating Symptoms of Workplace Stress

It is the duty of employers to create a positive environment that supports their employees. Unfortunately, many employers prioritize profits over their employees and do not mitigate stressful factors in the workplace. Though many causes of workplace stress are outside of your control, there are some methods that can potentially provide some relief to workplace stress.

The following are healthy self-help methods you can attempt:

  • Voice your concerns with your supervisors or human resources department
  • Ensure you carve out free time for yourself each week
  • Take care of your health with a balanced diet and exercise regimen
  • Create a positive work/ life balance
  • Introduce relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation into your routine
  • Build a support network of coworkers and friends/ family
  • Seek professional counseling from a therapist or psychologist

This list provides positive routes for reducing your workplace stress; however, some people become desperate when their workplaces are especially stressful or personal stress makes the workplace issues unbearable. In these cases, it is not unexpected to turn to unhealthy methods for managing stress. This is when issues like substance misuse and substance use disorder (SUD) can arise.

Workplace Stress and Substance Abuse

Workplace Stress and Substance Use

Losing your job or changing jobs can be a terrifying prospect, especially if you have a family to support. As a result, many people stay in stressful workplace environments while searching for any available method to cope with the stress their job causes. Unfortunately, this means they may turn to substances like alcohol and/ or drugs to help regulate their emotions and get them through their day.

Often, these coping strategies are used sparingly until work stress begins to build up. For example, a single alcoholic drink after work turns into pouring doubles, which turns into getting drunk just to help you fall asleep. The change is gradual and potentially unnoticeable until it becomes a severe issue.

The compensatory methods chosen depend on a person’s individual circumstances and their exposure level to different substances. For example, some people may begin to rely heavily on alcohol to help them relax, especially in workplaces that normalize alcohol consumption by going out for drinks after working hours or even incorporating happy hour into their business model. In high-stress workplace environments, peer pressure to participate in these events can play an especially significant role in a person developing substance issues.

Though there is no reliable methodology for separating workplace stress from other sources of stress in the respondents’ lives, it is still evident that there is a clear connection between workplace stress and compensatory mechanisms like substance use.

People who use substances as a coping method often go unnoticed if their reliance on the substance means they do not appear intoxicated on the job. Even though they may not outwardly appear affected, they may still make choices or take actions that are unsafe for themselves or their coworkers. One of the worst-case scenarios resulting from substance misuse is harming yourself or someone else, so identifying and mitigating these issues before they arise is crucial.

Signs of Substance Abuse Disorder in the Workplace

Using alcohol and drugs to alleviate the effects of workplace stress can easily become uncontrollable, evolving into a substance use disorder. Often, workplaces are one of the last to find out about an employee’s issues with misusing substances due to their desire to appear professional. Still, there are signs that can help identify those that may be struggling with SUD. These signs may also help you identify an issue if you feel you may be using substances to cope with workplace stress. These signs include:

  • Frequent tardiness and absences
  • Chaotic professional and personal life
  • Discord in marital, family, and professional relationships
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene and appearance
  • Overuse of breath fresheners and cologne
  • Severe or exaggerated mood swings
  • Increased isolation
  • Frequent disappearances during work hours
  • Financial strain and/ or working extra shifts for increased income
  • Legal issues such as DUIs or arrests for possession

If you suspect a coworker or an employee is struggling with SUD, compassion may not be the first emotion you feel. However, SUDs often arise as a result of severe struggles that they are attempting to deal with, including workplace stress, and are then compounded by a cycle of stress, mental health symptoms, and substance use. Though it may be difficult, try to remember that any negative consequences to coworkers are unintentional.

Treatment for the person suffering from Substance Abuse Disorder is the best way for everyone to safely move forward. Ultimately, it is not your responsibility to confront a coworker about a Substance Abuse Disorder, but speaking with a supervisor about your concerns can help them get the needed support and prevent any workplace issues caused by their substance use.

If you believe you may have become dependent on substance use to alleviate your workplace stress, you may be experiencing a substance use disorder. Learn more about how to determine whether it is time to seek help for your substance use below.

When To Consider Rehab for Substance Use

Alcohol and prescribed medications are legal, but when misused, they can pose serious and debilitating issues, including SUD. Illicit drugs are never legal, and their use can quickly develop into an unmanageable situation. The best time to seek help is before substance use develops into an SUD. Some of the signs that indicate you may benefit from therapy for substance misuse include:

  • Thinking about using the substance when you’re bored
  • Feeling the urge to use the substance when you feel upset or stressed
  • Straining or harming relationships because of the substance use
  • Using the substance more frequently or in greater amounts
  • Spending increasing amounts of your paycheck on the substance
  • Using the substance in a way that negatively affects your work performance
  • Being unable to reduce your use on your own

Whether you are using legal substances in unhealthy ways of using illegal substances as a way to cope, seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a great deal of evidence showing how mistreated workers develop substance misuse issues due to the immense stress they are put under. You may not be in a position to transition to a new workplace; however, you are in a place to seek healthier coping mechanisms that improve your overall well-being instead of harming it further.

Finding Balance in Work-Life During Recovery


Balancing Work-Life and Addiction Recovery

Earning a living wage often means dealing with stress from your workplace, as it is almost impossible to survive without an income. While substance use often occurs in response to severe stressors like workplace stress, the short-term benefits of this solution will quickly be overshadowed by the negative consequences. You are worth the time it takes to address substance use issues and find healthier coping mechanisms.

Avise Wellness Collective provides a comprehensive, whole-person approach to SUD treatment and mental health services. Our experienced staff members help individuals in Bucks County and the surrounding areas get the most from their treatment in our compassionate, comfortable treatment environment. Using evidence-based therapeutic practices, mindfulness techniques, and modalities of holistic health and wellness, our clients can embrace a full body-mind approach that supports a successful path toward recovery. Contact us about addiction recovery in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

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