Truck Drivers and Substance Abuse

Mental Health
Truck Drivers and Substance Abuse

On the Road Again: Truck Drivers and Substance Abuse

From groceries to overnight packages to furniture, Americans rely on long-haul truckers to get almost everything we use. In fact, almost 70 percent of all goods are delivered by big trucks. Take a drive on any stretch of interstate highway in the United States and you will see many 18-wheelers rolling down the road. In the US, there are over 5.5 million registered tractor trailers (or semitrailers), 1.9 million trucks in operation and 3.2 million drivers. All total, these trucks and drivers log trillions of miles each year.

And although the lifestyle of has truckers been mythologized and romanticized in pop culture, the reality is that long-haul truckers have a stressful lifestyle that is composed of long hours behind the wheel, frequent drives through the night and a diet consisting of low-quality foods. To top it off, these drivers do their jobs without always getting adequate rest. Because of these conditions, many truck drivers around the world turn to substances like cocaine and amphetamines to keep them going and help them meet deadlines.

The 2008 Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) Roadcheck showed that almost 100,000 truck drivers who were stopped during safety checks were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Many accident lawyers believe that the real number could be double that number. With almost 200,000 truckers driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol each year, there is a great need for them to get help with substance abuse issues.

Studies on Substance Abuse and Truck Drivers

In Brazil, substance abuse is a serious issue among long-haul truck drivers. Out of curiosity, a team of Brazilian researchers from the Universidade Estadual de Londrina led by Edmarlon Girotto examined studies done in 36 countries. Their review found that a certain amount of truckers around the world, including in the US, routinely use drugs or alcohol when operating these 80,000 pound trucks.

According to their reviews, there is a higher incidence of marijuana, alcohol, amphetamine, cocaine and other drug use among younger truck drivers while on the road. A related factor that Girotto’s team discovered shows a link between substance abuse and drivers’ salaries. Drivers who receive lower pay often feel more pressure to get to destinations faster in an attempt to reduce their time on the road so they can start their next run. Other factors examined in these studies may lead a truck driver to abuse drugs or alcohol. These include driving at night, the need for rest, longer stretches of driving time and drivers whose pay depends mostly on their performance.

The Brazilian team learned that the type of driving done by the younger drivers who are paid less was related to a higher incidence of substance abuse when driving. Drugs like cocaine or amphetamines are used by some drivers to stay alert and drive farther. To relax and unwind, substances like marijuana or alcohol are used during breaks from driving. Sometimes, these drivers get back on the road and drive in an impaired state due to dulled reaction times.

In addition, the more these drivers engaged in substance abuse, the more likely they were to take risks on the road leading to more accidents. This is especially disturbing considering that a fully-loaded truck can take up to 500 feet to come to a complete stop at highway speeds. As a result, their behavior behind the wheel makes the roads around the world more dangerous for everyone. Because these truckers seem to be able drive longer, their employers might assume that drivers can handle more time on the road than they really can. In the end, the people who benefit the most from the unhealthy, dangerous habits driver of these drivers are the trucking companies who employ the drivers.

Health Related Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Abuse for Truck Drivers

For long-haul truckers, driving accidents while under the influence are only one of the negative results of substance abuse. Other dangers associated with drug and alcohol abuse along with the consequences are not always immediate. Some of the short term and long term negative consequences of substance abuse are outlined below:

  • Short term – The immediate effects of substance abuse can lead to health problems which endanger a driver’s well-being. Some of these short term effects are impaired judgment and cloudy thinking, which directly impact a trucker’s driving skills. In serious cases, there could be a risk of adverse reactions to drugs such as the potential for overdose.
  • Long term – Substance abuse can lead to dependence on drugs or alcohol, causing a truck driver to use higher doses. When deprived of their substances of choice, these truckers may experience withdrawal symptoms. Also long term substance abuse can lead to chronic health problems and can even worsen existing health issues such as heart problems, respiratory issues or mental health disorders.

Additional Risks of Drug and Alcohol Abuse for Truck Drivers

The lifestyle of long-haul truck drivers is not necessarily conducive to good health. They sit for hours and hours at a time, eat foods designed for convenience and spend lots of time alone. And if those factors aren’t bad enough for a trucker’s health, substance abuse makes the situation even worse.

Substance abuse lead to driving under the influence and a greater risk of accidents. As well, the behaviors related to substance abuse among truckers can pose additional risks to a driver’s health. Some of these are physical, while others affect the the driver’s mental health. Other risks associated with substance abuse and driving a truck are listed below:

  • Truckers may face legal problems including arrests for possession or DUI which can lead to jail time.
  • The pursuit of drugs or alcohol can put strain on relationships.
  • When not driving, these truckers may engage in unprotected sex which can lead to disease.
  • Intravenous drug users risk the possibility of contracting HIV or other diseases by using dirty needles.
  • All of the above issues may make it difficult to keep a job or find a new job which can result in financial difficulties

Saving Your Loved One from the Dangers of Substance Abuse

Abstaining from drugs or alcohol when behind the wheel of a vehicle is important. For long-haul truck drivers who make a living on the road, staying away from drugs and alcohol is even more important. While only a small percentage of American truck drivers may be engaging in substance abuse, their behaviors put the rest of us in danger.

A lifestyle of substance abuse is dangerous, especially for long-haul truck drivers who operate some of the largest, heaviest machines on American highways. This lifestyle might not always have a tragic end for these drivers or other motorists, however the short and long term effects of drugs and alcohol are serious. If left untreated, substance abuse can greatly damage a truck driver’s life, possibly making it harder to keep a job or get a new one.

For many people, substance abuse treatment is the main step in their journey out of drugs or alcohol abuse. To help yourself or a truck driver you care about who is struggling with substance abuse, call Nsight Psychology & Addiction today at 888-557-8091 or contact us via confidential email to learn more ( Find out how you or someone you love can take the first steps away from alcohol and drugs, either on the road or off the road.