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Restaurant Workers

The foodservice industry has some of the highest rates of substance abuse and mental health issues out of any business sector in America. This, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of restaurants do not provide health insurance or employee assistance programs creates a potentially dangerous situation for a restaurant worker struggling with either of these conditions.

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Restaurant Workers

Restaurant Workers Mental Health Support

Working in the foodservice industry has always been a stressful profession, and this is even more true now since COVID has emerged. The long hours, unpredictable scheduling, lack of health insurance, and irregular flow of customers combine to create a very volatile workplace. Aside from the workplace itself, drug and alcohol use is rampant within the foodservice industry as a whole, and using drugs and alcohol can worsen any pre-existing mental health challenges, Here, we look at the particular challenges faced by restaurant workers and provide some helpful resources so that someone can find support and guidance during difficult times.

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Substance Abuse

Among Restaurant Workers

Substance abuse is a very common issue among restaurant workers. According to SAMHSA, the foodservice industry had the highest rates of past month illicit drug use and the highest rates of past year substance use disorder out of all professions between 2008 to 2012. The average rate for past-month illicit drug use among all industries was 8.6%, while among restaurant workers it was 19.1%. For past-year substance use disorder, the average rate for all industries was 9.5% while the restaurant industry was 16.9%. This is a significant increase and shows that not only are drugs and alcohol used more often among restaurant workers, but dependence and addiction are also much more common in the foodservice industry when compared to other industries.

Image Credit: SAMHSA

While there may be many different reasons for the significantly higher rates of substance abuse among restaurant workers, the most effective solution is to find professional treatment and help for substance abuse. Since employer-provided health insurance is such a rarity in this industry, it may be necessary to seek programs that are sliding scale or government-funded to find affordable help. Luckily, there are many such programs and facilities all over the country and we will provide some treatment locator tools down below.

Mental Health

Among Restaurant Workers

It is very common for restaurant workers to experience mental health issues. While there is no single cause for this, a combination of factors may be at play. Low base pay, lack of health insurance, an irregular schedule, and unpredictable income can lead to a lack of stability in someone’s life. In 16 states throughout the Midwest and Southeast, $2.13 an hour before tips is the standard base pay rate for restaurant servers. According to the CDC, as of 2014, just over 35% of restaurant workers did not have health insurance. This lack of financial stability and access to healthcare can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

A 2017 study found that the restaurant industry was one of the three unhealthiest industries to work in as far as mental health is concerned. The reasons for this poor rating included job insecurity, lack of appreciation for good work, and very high levels of stress in the workplace. Additionally, the long hours can directly contribute to declining mental health through exhaustion and fatigue. This can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and drained. Along with the frequent lack of health insurance at foodservice jobs, this can create a potentially dangerous situation with regard to someone’s mental health.

Restaurant Workers Conditions
Co-Occurring Conditions

Among Restaurant Workers

There is a very close connection between mental health and substance use disorders, and while they are distinct conditions, they may share many contributing factors. Job-induced stress, anxiety, and a lack of stability can worsen or amplify and pre-existing mental health issues, while also encouraging someone to seek relief and a sense of control in drugs or alcohol. While self-medication is a common reason for someone to benign using drugs or alcohol, substance abuse can further worsen the issues that someone was trying to medicate. This results in a downward spiral where someone will use more drugs or alcohol as their symptoms worsen, which often produces an even further worsening of their symptoms.


In particular, anxiety disorders are strongly associated with substance use disorders. Any type of anxiety disorder increases the chances of drug and alcohol abuse as well as drug or alcohol dependence, although different types of anxiety disorders can produce differing increases in the chances. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the anxiety disorders most strongly associated with substance abuse, and this is a common mental health issue in the foodservice industry. Having co-occurring conditions can complicate the treatment and recovery process, but recovery is absolutely possible with comprehensive care. According to SAMHSA, the most effective treatments for co-occurring conditions entail receiving integrated care for both conditions simultaneously. This helps prevent a relapse in the symptoms of one condition from amplifying the symptoms of the other condition.

Mental Health

Resources for Restaurant Workers

Working in the foodservice industry can make finding treatment difficult. Due to the rarity of health insurance, the non-standard hours, and unpredictable scheduling, it can be troublesome to find affordable and accessible mental healthcare. That being said, there are options available. Aside from government mental healthcare programs, there are several non-profit organizations that are aimed at supporting the mental health of restaurant workers.

Some helpful mental health resources for restaurant workers include:

  • I Got Your BackText HOPE to 916-668-4226 to speak with a volunteer crisis support specialist. This is not so much an organization as it is a community of restaurant workers who are committed to helping each other through difficult times.
  • Giving Kitchen: This is a non-profit organization that provides financial and social support to restaurant workers who may be struggling. They can help connect someone with mental health resources in their area as well as help someone with financial difficulties.
  • Big Table: A non-profit organization that helps restaurant workers who may be in financial or mental health crises.
  • Fair Kitchens: A movement started by Unilever Food Solutions, this site is intended to help reform the workplace in the foodservice industry by putting a greater focus on teamwork and mental wellbeing.
  • Sanvello: This is a mental health and wellbeing app that provides therapy, stress reduction, and mindfulness tools. They have a specific offering for hospitality industry workers, and the app is available on Android and Apple app stores.
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255 A 24/7/365 crisis hotline that can help someone who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
    • Para Español1-888-628-9454
  • Crisis Text LineText HOME to 741-741 anytime, 24/7 during a mental health crisis to get in touch with a crisis counselor.
  • Chefs With Issues: This is a private Facebook group that is for foodservice professionals who may be struggling with mental health issues. This is a private peer support group where someone can find a community of fellows who have struggled with mental health in the workplace and found ways to overcome these challenges.
Restaurant Workers Resources
Substance Abuse

Resources for Restaurant Workers

Drug and alcohol use is a serious problem in the restaurant industry, and getting help may be challenging. The prevalence of alcohol and substance use in the industry can make it difficult for someone to realize that they even have a problem in the first place. There are many options for finding help, including low-cost or free options. Additionally, there are support groups and recovery fellowships specifically for people in the restaurant industry who may be struggling with an addiction. Some of these groups consist of restaurant workers or owners themselves who have been through the same struggles and made it through into a healthier, happier life.


Some helpful resources for restaurant workers to find help for substance abuse include:

  • Ben’s Friends: A restaurant industry support group for people struggling with substance abuse in the foodservice industry, by people who have struggled with substance abuse in the foodservice industry. They host support meetings in person in several states and online for anyone to join.
  • On The Line: A helpful newsletter aimed at restaurant workers, they provide helpful tips, information, and resources for addressed addiction in the workplace and helping people find recovery.
  • CulinaRecovery: A group that provides addiction recovery speakers and peer support coaches to restaurants and foodservice industry professionals.
  • Bar Harm: A Facebook group dedicated to promoting addiction recovery in the restaurant industry.
  • SAMHSA Treatment Locator: This treatment finder can help someone find government-run detox and addiction treatment centers near them.
  • A government-run treatment locator tool, this can help someone find addiction treatment and rehab centers near them.
  • FreeRehab.Center: This free or low-cost treatment locator site can help someone find a variety of different types of treatment centers near them.
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