Substance Abuse Among Commercial Drivers

Truck driver resting on the loading station

Safety should be the top concern in every workplace in America. And in most workplaces, it is. However, drug use and drinking among employees has the harsh effect of nullifying safety efforts. In fact, a significant percentage of workplace accidents are directly related to substance abuse among one or more of the employees involved in the accident.

Such accidents can range quite a bit in severity. Some can even be lethal. For the commercial transport industry, and in commercial trucking especially, when a truck driver uses mind-altering substances, that creates a dangerous scenario for him and for everyone else on the road.

Unfortunately, truckers often feel compelled to take drugs to cope with long, sleepless shifts. But meeting a company quota for delivering goods on time is never worth risking lives.

What is the solution here?

A Look at the Statistics On Drugged Driving

A collection of international research on substance abuse among truck drivers found concerning results. When surveyed, about 30 percent of drivers admitted to using amphetamines while driving, and about half admitted to drinking and driving. About 20 percent admitted to using marijuana while driving (a growing problem in the U.S. thanks in part to increasing legalization), and about three percent admitted to using cocaine while driving.

Drug testing has also been employed to learn the extent of the problem. This has been an international effort as well. Grimly enough, according to one test, the U.S. scored the highest in the world for the frequency of positive alcohol tests among commercial drivers, at 12.5 percent.

Driver is taking pills

For a look closer to home, another research project examined the drug test results of more than 150,000 U.S.-based truck drivers. About 94 percent of drivers passed the drug tests, which is good. However, that means roughly 9,000-10,000 drivers failed the tests. The conclusion is that thousands of drivers, from just that one study alone, had been using mind-altering substances while driving.

Something has to change within the commercial transport sector itself as the growing problem of substance abuse among drivers is partially the result of increasing demands on the drivers. Improving work conditions won’t solve the problem entirely, but it will be a life-saving move in the right direction.

Edmarlon Girotto, one of the researchers who examined the international data on drug use in the commercial transport industry stated: “Improving these working conditions, such as restricting the working hours and better pay (preferably not involving the salary based on production) could contribute decisively to reducing the consumption of these substances.”

Others involved in the research noted that, while the types of substances used among commercial drivers in different countries varied drastically, the fact of substance abuse among certain percentages of drivers was always prevalent. It’s a big problem in the United States. But it’s a big problem in the rest of the world too. Changing this dangerous situation for the better will require improving work conditions, but it will also mean treating those employees who are already hooked on substances.

The Importance of a Sober Workforce

One of the less often discussed concerns about commercial drivers using drugs to handle long trips is it gives employers the impression that truckers actually can drive those long trips. The reality is, drivers are only barely able to manage those trips, and they’re managing them while taking mind-altering substances to get from one place to the next without falling asleep at the wheel.

However, employers might not be aware of the drug use among their drivers, or they may be ignoring it, and so they may continue to assign long journeys and to even increase the trips and deadlines for their drivers, further worsening the problem.

That’s why it is so crucial to prioritize having and creating a sober workforce. Not only does drug use among employees threaten lives, but drug use in the workforce paints a false picture of what the capabilities of that workforce actually are. In most workplaces, drug use and drinking lead to a sharp drop in production and a severe financial toll. In trucking and other transport jobs, there may be the appearance of an increase in production, but at what cost? Dead truckers, dead motorists, and collateral damage to trucks and cargo. When drug use enters the workforce, everyone loses.

Addiction Treatment’s Growing Importance

There is never a good excuse for drug use, no matter one’s profession. There is never a good reason to use drugs at all. If commercial drivers are becoming more prone to using psychoactive substances just so they can stay awake on long hauls, that is indicative of a much deeper problem within the commercial transport world. Why are truckers being tasked with such long hauls and so few opportunities to rest, to the point that they feel the need to take drugs to stay awake? And when they become addicted to those drugs, why is there no action being taken to get them off of drugs?

Truck in a sunshine

There are many questions left unanswered regarding the working conditions of commercial transportation employees. And that is something that will have to be addressed. But there is one thing to be sure of. Commercial transport employees risk their lives and the lives of others when they use mind-altering substances such as amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opioids, alcohol, etc. And when addiction to such substances sets in, commercial transport employees will need to receive professional treatment to help them break free from such harmful and potentially lethal habits.

Sometimes, people are made to believe that certain types of drug use do not require treatment or do not warrant treatment. But that is simply not true. Any degree of drug use creates harm, and if someone cannot stop using that drug on their own, they will require professional treatment to help get them into a sober, drug-free life.

Narconon exists to help people overcome substance abuse problems. The Narconon program is unique, and the results of the program live in the thousands of Narconon graduates who now experience clean and sober lives totally free from drugs. If you or someone you care about is using substances and cannot or will not stop, please contact Narconon today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.