Substance Abuse Among Teachers: Statistics, Signs & Treatment

  • Written by:

    Bedrock Recovery Center

  • Dr. Johnelle Smith
    Medically reviewed by:

    Johnelle Smith, M.D

Addiction Among Teachers

Schools and colleges are often considered some of the best places to inform young people about the nature of substance abuse. 

Addiction resources in schools are often abundantly available for students, but it can be easy to forget that the educators of these students often need support for substance use, as well. 

Read on to gain an understanding of the scope of substance abuse disorders among educators in the U.S. today. 

Why Teachers Might Abuse Drugs Or Alcohol

Education has become one of the most mentally and emotionally exhausting professions in the U.S. in recent years. 

A variety of factors unique to the field of education have contributed to the exhausting nature of teaching positions. 

Risk factors for educators in particular:

  • Demanding work responsibilities: This includes standardized testing and grading quotas, many with classrooms filled beyond capacity.
  • Education-specific hustle culture: There is high pressure from peers and superiors to “always give 110%” for the sake of their students.
  • Stress from emotional labor: Teachers are not only burdened with the daily tasks of their jobs, but also the emotional weight of caring for students and ensuring they succeed.
  • Fatigue: Teachers are expected to work during their off-hours, often without overtime compensation.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms: Unfortunately, there has been a normalization among educators of unhealthy coping mechanisms, including the use of drugs and alcohol.

More general risk factors for experiencing substance abuse include:

Many teachers, professors, and others in the education field have turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with this stress. 

Drug or alcohol abuse may be used to:

  • alleviate anxiety and worries about work
  • escape from reality and numb emotional pain
  • keep up with the demands of teaching jobs

Education And COVID-19

We cannot discuss educators and their mental health without also discussing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects this pandemic had on teachers. 

The stressors of a global pandemic have added to an already overextended education system in ways too numerous to count. 

A few of the ways teachers were affected by the pandemic include:

  • having to learn new ways of teaching, such as teaching virtually, enforcing mask rules in the classroom, or teaching hybrid classes of in-person and online students
  • increased working hours
  • negative impacts on grades for their students
  • poor implications on teachers’ health and well-being
  • working around new rules, restrictions, and policies that often shifted frequently

This led many teachers to drink or use drugs more heavily in order to escape the trials of teaching amidst COVID-19 restrictions and fluctuations.

Rates Of Drug Abuse And Mental Health Issues For Teachers

Recent drug abuse statistics reveal that the abuse of substances such as alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and other drugs is a major concern in the U.S.

Below, we’ll discuss the rate of drug and alcohol abuse among teachers.

What Percentage Of Teachers Do Drugs?

In 2015, it was estimated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that about 5.5% of all people in educational services had an addiction disorder. 

Statistics on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the rate of addiction use in educators have not yet been published, but it is very likely to have increased during this time. 

What Percentage Of Teachers Drink Alcohol?

Among teachers and all people in the education field, 4.7% reported heavily abusing alcohol in the month before the SAMHSA survey of 2015.

This is a significant increase from a rate of 3.7% in 2008. 

How Many Teachers Have Mental Health Issues?

Dual diagnosis is common with many types of substance abuse disorders. This is because the addiction is often used in an attempt to self-medicate mental illnesses. 

One 2004 study found that about 50% of people in addiction treatment had a comorbid mental illness. 

According to a RAND Corporation study, one in four teachers reported experiencing symptoms of depression and frequent job-related stress. 

The RAND study notes that this rate is significantly higher than that of the general population. While correlation is not causation, the link between these numbers should not be understated. 

What Percentage Of Teachers Are On Antidepressants?

Studies are inconclusive on the percentage of teachers who are on antidepressants in the U.S. at this time. 

One study found that 10% of teachers in the United Kingdom were prescribed them as a direct result of pressure from their jobs. 

Statistics for American teachers are not yet available but it’s likely that educators in the U.S. are experiencing similar rates of antidepressant use. 

Signs Of Addiction For Educators

The line between casual drinking and alcohol abuse can be hard to see: Some people may visibly hit rock bottom, while others may continue to live life normally from outsiders’ perspectives. 

There are many signs of alcohol addiction and drug use for people in the educational field. 

Some of these signs are unique to the profession, while others may be applicable to anyone facing substance abuse. 

Common signs of chronic drug or alcohol use regardless of a person’s profession include: 

  • dizziness, lack of coordination, slurred speech
  • bloodshot eyes
  • dilated pupils (if someone is using cocaine, this is referred to as “cocaine eyes“) 
  • increased jumpiness, anxiety, or irritability
  • rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • lack of personal hygiene 
  • social withdrawal 
  • changes in sleeping habits 

Addiction signs that are unique to educators are:

  • forgetting to grade tests and assignments
  • missing school deadlines and meetings
  • being ill-prepared for instructional time
  • being late to school
  • being distracted by thoughts of using drugs or drinking during the school day 
  • using drugs or alcohol during the school day

A teacher with an addiction may also have drug paraphernalia or alcohol hidden in a private location, such as their home, car, or an area of their classroom that is off-limits to their students. 

Stigma For Educators With Substance Abuse Issues

Teaching has been described as an incredibly rewarding profession by many. However, external pressures surrounding the position are difficult to ignore. 

Teachers with addictions may face stigma such as: 

  • high standards for teachers and schools, with very little financial or emotional support to achieve those standards 
  • judgment from parents who may scorn teachers with substance abuse issues being near and teaching their children
  • societal judgment in which many people see teaching as an easy job and therefore does not warrant mental or behavioral issues

For educators, this is additional pressure on top of the existing stigmas associated with substance abuse for people of any profession. 

  • Addiction is seen as a personal failing rather than a mental disorder.
  • There is a cultural taboo around addiction, making it difficult to discuss.
  • Internalized stigma makes it difficult to search for treatment or admit a need for help.
  • Many people feel that recovery from addiction is impossible.

With all of these factors and many more, it’s no wonder many teachers find themselves leaving the profession. 

In fact, studies suggest that a teacher’s desire to quit their job and having a substance use disorder may be linked. 

Addiction Treatment Programs For Teachers

Substance abuse treatment programs offer a variety of services depending on the needs of the people in their care. 

Additionally, addiction centers often offer multiple levels of care. This means that you can find a program that works for your schedule during the school year or over the summer break. 

These levels of addiction treatment can include: 

For educators, there are many programs that are designed with professionals in mind. These programs work with your schedule to provide care and are discrete as possible. 

Many allow access to technology such as cell phones and laptops so teachers may continue to answer emails and accomplish any other work-related tasks as needed. 

Will I Lose My Teaching Job If I Go To Rehab?

Many teachers experiencing substance abuse are interested in attending addiction treatment but are concerned about losing their employment status as a result. 

Rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment falls under the protection of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). 

This means that so long as you are not a danger to yourself or those around you, you can attend confidential addiction treatment without fear of risking your career. 

Legally, you are not required to provide full details on your medical or personal leave, and you can’t be fired from your teaching job for receiving help.

If you are a part of a teacher’s union, the union may be able to assist you in finding treatment for substance abuse discreetly. 

Additionally, if you need to attend treatment for a longer period, you may choose to do so over a longer break. Summer and winter breaks can be the best time to seek treatment for teachers.

How To Help Teachers With Substance Use Disorders

All teachers need additional support, especially those who are experiencing addiction. Here are some of the ways we can help teachers with addictions. 

Helping A Teacher You Know

If a teacher you know is experiencing addiction, let them know that you are there for them without judgment. 

Ask them what started the drug or alcohol use, and if there’s any way you can help or listen better. 

Remind them that they must take care of themselves first before others. Burnout among teachers caused by emotional labor is a very real concern and can lead to substance use. 

If they are interested, offer to gently hold them accountable for their substance use — perhaps via a daily or weekly check-in. 

Most importantly, encourage them to find addiction treatment that works for them. 

Volunteer Your Time

Teachers often need more assistance with their jobs. Volunteer to work in a classroom or the office of the school. 

Additionally, if you know a teacher more personally, offer to help with personal matters to alleviate their job stress. 

Maybe this teacher is a neighbor, and mowing their lawn would help to relieve home chores so they can focus on teaching requirements. 

Or, if this teacher is a family member living in your home, you might offer to cook or buy them dinner, prepare classroom materials, or stay up with them as they grade assignments.

Make Your Voice Heard

Many of the best ways to support teachers are outside the control of a single school and must be addressed at a board, state, or federal level. 

This includes increasing funding to the school, which allows these institutions to hire more teachers at better pay rates. 

At times, these institutions may be run by people who are disconnected from the day-to-day issues of the classroom. 

Attend school board meetings in your area and be an advocate for the mental health of teachers. You can also contact local representatives to discuss the matter. 

Bring up important matters of mental illness, addiction, burnout, and other topics pertinent to the teachers in your life.

Ways Schools Can Promote Mental Health For Teachers

The decisions made by administrations and school boards play a vital part in the mental health of teachers.

Schools can help teachers by: 

  • prioritizing a healthy work-life balance
  • promoting honesty in the workplace when it comes to substance use and mental health
  • encouraging practical and reasonable self-care, and allowing space for self-care 
  • having open communication by using anonymous feedback or hosting group discussions
  • offering financial support by increasing pay, benefits, and classroom budgets 

Resources For Teachers Overcoming Drug Or Alcohol Abuse

There are many affordable and low-cost addiction services throughout the country for teachers overcoming substance use disorders. 

Group therapy and other support networks are also available to teachers who can’t attend a rehab program right away. 

These services provide assistance to teachers feeling isolated by their substance abuse. With group support, you know you’re not alone.

Support resources for teachers overcoming addiction:

Recover From Addiction At Bedrock Recovery Center

If a teacher in your life is in need of addiction support, know that you are not alone. Help is available at Bedrock Recovery Center. 

Our addiction treatment center in Canton, Massachusetts has helped countless professionals recover from substance abuse. 

Our well-trained addiction staff will be there for you every step of the way. Reach out to our helpline today to learn more about our addiction recovery programs. 


Sources:

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) — Drug Abuse Statistics

National Institutes of Health (NIH) | National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) — Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers: A Systematic Review

National Institutes of Health (NIH) | National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) — Teacher drug use: a response to occupational stress

RAND Corporation — Job-Related Stress Threatens the Teacher Supply

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Substance Use and Substance Use Disorder by Industry (2015)