Workplace Stress and the Role of Addiction

Recent information from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) shows that there are around 526,000 cases of work-related stress annually in the UK. Employees most likely affected by stress in the workplace are based in health and social care, education and public administration, all of which have their own demands.

Work-related stress may arise due to unrealistic workloads, unacceptable working conditions, poor working relationships, uncertain job security, poor pay and problems achieving a good work-life balance. Whatever the reason for job stress, it is a serious issue as this pressure can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, which include fatigue, headaches, digestive upset, palpitations, low mood, anxiety and poor self-esteem.

Owing to the link between mental health and substance misuse, it is not surprising that stress in the workplace can trigger alcohol and drug abuse as a means to cope. It is in the interest of employers though that they help their workers manage stress and reduce the likelihood of substance dependency, as both can lead to reduced productivity and attendance, which increase company costs.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse at Work

It is a misconception that addicts are unemployed as certainly when it comes to alcohol, you are more likely to drink if you are in employment than if you are looking for work or you aren’t in the job market. Particularly when it comes to heavy drinking there appears to be a potential link with job stress, with women working full time most likely to exceed recommended drinking limits, while anyone in a professional or managerial position tends to drink more units of alcohol and drink more frequently than manual workers.

Although adults with the lowest incomes are most likely to abuse drugs, particularly Class A substances, the pressures of poorly paid work can be just as significant as having a demanding job.


Alcohol misuse, that affects work, is more of an issue than drug abuse.


…with 60% of employers reporting problems related to alcohol compared to 27% related to drugs. This may reflect the fact that just 5% of the population of working age uses illegal drugs, though the issue of addiction to prescription medications is more of a problem, with an estimated 1.5 million adults in the UK addicted to drugs available on prescription or over-the-counter.

While prescription items that boost mood or ease anxiety may seem an easy option to cope with stress, particularly among workers who already have a supply of these tablets, these are potentially just as addictive and damaging to health. The risks of work-related accidents while misusing legal substances is also just as great.

Managing Workplace Stress

As an employee if you find yourself feeling stressed, while drink and drugs may seem a tempting option, these won’t solve your work issues and can make matters worse if you fall behind with your work or receive disciplinary action. However, there are effective steps you can take to ease work-related stress:

  • Focus on time management and learn to prioritise your tasks.
  • Discuss your workload and other problems with your employer.
  • Recognise when you are not attaching realistic importance to your work, as this unnecessarily adds to stress.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to adapt your role, or develop new skills, to add interest and enhance your prospects.
  • Take a short break, each hour, to ease physical and mental tension.
  • Talk through your concerns with loved ones.
  • Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle.

There are also steps an employer can take to minimise stress, as improved communication, access to occupational health services, making sure staff take their full holiday entitlement, that holiday cover is in place, and raising awareness of stress management through workshops can all make a difference to stress levels and how workers manage the pressure they are under.

If you are someone suffering, or an employer with concerns around your employee’s, call or write NOW for an initial assessment – to begin the process of mitigation.

External Resources

Causes of work-related stress

Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2005 to 2016

Is drug use mainly in deprived areas?

Statistics on Drugs Misuse: England, 2016

Alcohol Detox and Sleep

About the author
Managing Director / Counsellor at Anglia Counselling Ltd | 07747042899 | [email protected] | Business Website

Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.

Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).