Workplace Violence | Are These Traumatic Events Caused by Substance Use?

Workplace violence is something that typically all major companies require employee training for. These include an action plan, what to do, where to go, and how to respond. This kind of training can be the difference between life and death for employees caught in the middle of workplace violence. But an equally important part of understanding workplace violence involves understanding the contributing factors that lead to violent acts. Here’s what you should know about the connection between workplace violence and substance use.  

Drugs Connected With Violence

Violence is associated with most drugs long before the substances get into users’ hands. In fact, most of the violence linked to drugs concerns the drug trade, gangs, cartels, trafficking, and manufacturing. Probably the most notorious drugs that fit into this category are the same ones most likely to foster aggression and violence in users: stimulant drugs. These drugs increase activity in the central nervous system (CNS).

The stimulant drug class includes cocaine, meth, ecstasy, and various prescription amphetamines used for symptoms, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because of these drugs' effect on the brain, they can promote emotional and psychological dangers, including an inability to think clearly, restlessness, hallucinations and paranoia, aggression, suicidal thoughts, and violent behavior. 

However, this is not always the case. Making a direct connection between substance use and workplace violence is challenging, to say the least. To start with, no one drug is guaranteed to make someone prone to violent behavior. Beyond that, one drug that makes someone prone to violence may not have the same effect on someone else. For example, marijuana has broken through the stigma in many states and is legalized for recreational use in some of them. Many proponents of marijuana legalization argue that the substance is harmless compared to other drugs. However, there are instances where marijuana can have the opposite effect on a user compared to the assumed calming effect, resulting in paranoia, aggression, and rage.

The Statistics

In 2020, a medical review was conducted to analyze which drug categories were associated with violence. The review used internationally published studies from 1990-2019 and included individuals across a wide range of demographics. Here is a summary of the findings:

     Those with a developed substance use disorder (SUD) have a 4-10 times higher risk of acts of violence compared to those without an SUD.

     Of the drugs analyzed (marijuana, hallucinogens, stimulants, opioids, and sedatives), no singular drug use drastically increased violent tendencies compared to other drugs. 

     Violence can be attributed to mental illness and drug abuse. Still, since drug abuse makes up a much higher percentage of the population, substance abuse treatment is one of the most important preventative measures against violence.


Taking these findings into account helps to connect workplace violence to the issue of SUD. For example, alcohol and drug abuse totals over $100 billion in company losses annually. This number includes absenteeism, loss of efficiency, turnover rate, and social issues such as a decrease in the quality of workplace culture and increased verbal and/or physical aggression. As long as SUD is misunderstood and undervalued in the workplace, the workplace will continue to foster an environment that can contribute to ongoing SUD and even acts of violence.

Another thing to remember about workplace violence is that it includes not only weapons or acts of terror but also sexual assault. Sexual assault is a dangerous and often vicious cycle related to substance abuse. According to statistics, sexual assault often causes the contributing factors to SUD, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Alcohol is a common substance involved in sexual assaults. But it can also become a coping mechanism for people who experienced sexual assault earlier in their lives, along with other substances.

Safe Work Environments

The big takeaway is not to suggest that the only contributing factor of workplace violence is substance abuse but to say that substance use is statistically involved in acts of violence at far too high of a percentage to ignore.


Promoting safe work environments can include policies on drug use, but it should also include a culture of offering help and support for those who have an SUD.


Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). How Organized Crime Relates to Addiction. Retrieved

Medline Plus. (2022 April 30). Substance Use: Amphetamines. Retrieved

WebMD. (n.d.). Marijuana and Anger: Can Weed Make You Angry? Retrieved

National Library of Medicine. (2020 October 2). Drug Use Disorders and Violence: Associations With Individual Drug Categories. Retrieved

Very Well Mind. (2020 September 26). The Dangers of Substance Abuse in the Workplace. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Sexual Assault, Substance Abuse, and Recovery. Retrieved

Cureus. (2022 December 25). Homicide in Relation to Mental Illness: Stigma Versus Reality. Retrieved

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