Why Do People Do Drugs at Work?
We talked to some workers with a habit of doing drugs on the job to find out why they did and what made them stop.
Illustration by Pierre Thyss
This article originally appeared on VICE France.
In early December 2016, the president of the French government committee against drugs and addiction, Danièle Jourdain Menninger, announced that in France more than 20 million workers exhibit "addictive behavior"—namely, that they rely on drugs and/or alcohol to get through their workday. Given that the French workforce is currently made up of 28.6 million people, 20 million is a rather staggering number.
Slightly alarmed, I called Michel Reynaud, a renowned professor of psychiatry and an expert in addiction, who downplayed that number: " The chances of developing an addiction when you have a job are usually smaller, compared to when you're unemployed. But if people do take drugs or drink at work—or because of it—it's because three factors come together: a more or less easy to acquire addictive product, a stressful working environment, and a vulnerable individual."
The company or its culture isn't always what pushes people to be under the influence to get through a working day. There are, however, sectors where employees run a bigger risk. According to Reynaud, that counts for people working in catering and the hospitality industry, medical professionals ("because the products are easily available"), advertisers, journalists, architects, and sailors.
Why those jobs in particular? "People working those jobs generally don't have a strict routine, might work nights, and are more likely to be under pressure," Reynaud explained. I spoke to three people who at some point developed a habit of doing drugs at work, to find out their reasons for doing so.
Julia*, 23, now works in a clothing shop in Annecy
"I began taking drugs at work in January 2015 and kept at it for about four months. I worked in a restaurant in Annecy at the time, where we were only two waitresses. Our shift would end around midnight, and we often wanted to go for a drink after work. That would sometimes spiral out of control, but because work started the next day at 10 AM, we needed to keep going. So we'd take indecent amounts of cocaine—I'd say between two and three grams a day. As soon as we'd start to feel tired, we'd do a line. Coming out of the toilets, I felt like Super Mario, but I obviously ended up becoming irritable, to say the least. When you're working yourself to the bone with clenched teeth and a customer is making a fuss, you just want to smash a plate on their head.
I ended up completely exhausted. I stopped working in the restaurant business because I couldn't take it anymore. My body was giving up. Paradoxically, my next job was in a night club, that was not as physically demanding, even though I worked until 7 AM. In that club, I worked at such a frantic pace that I didn't feel the need for anything—and I could sleep in the next day.
Now I work in a clothes shop, which has normal hours and is much calmer. I don't do drugs on the job anymore—the worst thing I do these days is arrive to work with a stinking hangover."
Antoine*, in his 20s, TV presenter in Paris
"As a TV presenter, I am often not done with work until very late and will only get to bed around 7 AM. Then I have to be back at work at midday. At some point, I discovered that taking cocaine helped me get through the day. Granted it made getting out of bed more difficult, but during the day, I didn't feel tired at all. It became a habit, but it wasn't good for my work on set. A guy I know once said, "With coke, you can do anything—but you do everything worse." In fact, I would spend the day being so much more conscious of what I was doing because I didn't want people to suspect anything.
My colleagues were aware something was up, though. Weirdly enough, many people assumed I was smoking weed—some viewers went so far as to send me messages saying, "You've got to stop smoking weed."
I think that I took drugs because of the pressures of the job. The most harmful thing is that you feel that it doesn't change much, that it's just a pinch of motivation. That's so far from the truth—it takes away your appetite, you start sweating, you keep in your emotions. You have a runny nose all day, and all you get is a bit of oomph."
Julien, 36, currently on benefits
"In 2012, I worked in a call center where our supervisors controlled us like we were in high school. We were only allowed a ten-minute break every two hours, and we couldn't even talk to one another. I would smoke joints before going to work and during those breaks—many of my colleagues did the same thing. We'd all get through three or four spliffs a day. Some of our supervisors berated us for it; others didn't give a shit. And I don't think it ever really affected my work, but that's only because the job was tedious—I just had to read a list of questions to the people I rang up, without even having to think.
A while before that, I did an internship at an insurance company. I smoked a huge joint at work there one time, and it didn't go over well. I wasn't with friends; I was surrounded by guys in their 50s, so I got quite paranoid and started talking nonsense. But I don't think that I smoke at work because I'm bored or because of the pressure. It's a question of habit. I'm just used to smoking weed during the day—I have been ever since high school. I never changed my habits when I started working. I'll stop smoking during work hours when I find a new job, though, because I am starting to put two and two together."
*Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.