There is a common assumption among certain cultures and societies that pursuing a higher education can automatically protect against risky behavior. By making these assumptions, opportunities for prevention and intervention can easily be missed as the higher educated are not immune to developing substance use and abuse problems.
It is important to examine evidence of substance-related problems among those with higher educations. While education tends to decrease the likelihood of substance-related addiction, assuming these individuals are immune can put them at greater risk for developing problems that could go untreated.
Researchers examined a highly educated workforce to evaluate the prevalence of risky substance use behaviors among this workforce. In the study, Matano, Wanat, Westrup, Koopman, & Whistsell, 2002, researchers examined surveys of 504 employees. Among these individuals 62.8 percent were female and in the age range of 21 to 78. A bachelor’s degree or higher was held by 81 percent and three percent earned a high school diploma or less.
The results of this survey indicate that alcohol and licit drug use was more prevalent than illicit substance use among the sample. On the flip side, a significant number of employees reported illicit drug use during the past year. In fact, 12 percent qualified for “likely to have lifetime alcohol dependence,” according to responses to the CAGE.
In response to the AUDIT, five percent had a “high likelihood of alcohol abuse.” Another three percent claimed their alcohol consumption caused injury to someone else. While these results indicate there is a true problem at play, only a handful of these employees reported receiving any type of substance abuse treatment over the past year.
While this study captures some valuable information, it does have certain limitations. One glaring obstacle is that only 60 percent of employees who were given the survey responded to the survey. If this number were to change in another presentation of the survey, results could be skewed.
Another limitation with this survey is that it was completed in 1999. It is possible that substance use behaviors among highly educated employees have changed since that time. Researchers must also remember there could be a different perception of drug and other substance use among highly educated individuals, which could bias the self-reporting of the survey.
Even with these limitations, the study still highlights the fact that substance use and abuse is not an issue that can arise as a problem for only less educated individuals. The study exposes the need for employee prevention and intervention programs in work forces that tend to be populated by highly educated individuals.