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How Can Auto Shops Help Workers Cope with Substance Abuse?

substance abuse

In our last blog we discussed how negative life outcomes like depression and suicide affect auto repair workers. Another common problem in auto shops is workers who struggle with addiction. This problem has only increased in recent years. Why is this, and how can auto shops help employees whose lives have been hurt by substance abuse? 

Substance Abuse and Auto Repair

Addiction in general is something that affects all sorts of people. All Americans know people who rely on alcohol or drugs to navigate the difficulties of life. Many people fall into addiction as a coping mechanism for stress or depression or as a result of trauma. Americans have experienced more of all of these as a result of family and social problems, economic hardship, and our wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, so our problems with substance abuse have worsened considerably over time. 

All types of substance abuse and addiction are hard on workers – alcohol, drugs, and prescription drugs. They affect workers’ relationships and their ability to perform tasks correctly and safely. For both auto shop managers and workers, substance abuse is a real problem today. Some drugs are worse than others, however.

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Opioid Drug Addiction 

In the past two decades the opioid crisis has increased and intensified substance addiction in America as doctors began to prescribe opioid painkillers for a variety of medical procedures and conditions. People had their wisdom teeth out or suffered a knee injury and, as a result of medical treatment, inadvertently became regular drug users. Opioid drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin are extremely addictive. Drug overdose rates have skyrocketed. This is now the leading cause of death in America for people under the age of 50. 

The demographics most affected by the opioid crisis are whites, rural Americans, Native Americans, and the working class. Auto repair workers are working class and heavily drawn from the white population. They are more likely to suffer an injury at work than a white collar worker and much more likely to develop lasting pain from the lifting and hauling auto repair requires.

Auto repair workers with substance abuse problems will usually continue to work and deny that their addiction affects their performance. It would be nice if this were true, but addicted auto repair workers are much more likely to skip or miss work, make mistakes on the job, or underperform in ways that require their coworkers to work harder or work around them. As a result they are more likely to be fired. After they lose their jobs, they will find it harder to get another one – even if they manage to get their addiction under control. Their work history has a permanent blemish on it, and many managers won’t take a chance on them.

A Second Chance for Auto Repair Workers

For too many auto techs, this is the way their career in auto repair ends. There are some people in the industry who want to work with people who have experienced drug or alcohol addiction, though. One Kentucky auto shop that is offering auto techs a second chance to find the road to recovery is called, appropriately, Second Chance Auto. This auto shop employs ten techs under the umbrella of the Addiction Recovery Care network in Kentucky. ARC operates both inpatient and outpatient facilities in the state. They opened an automotive repair facility as another way to transition people struggling with addiction back to fully productive lives. 

This is a vocational training program that is operated by workers in recovery from addiction. It’s also a full-service auto body and maintenance shop in Louisa, Kentucky. The manager, James Keeton, is in recovery himself and helps his employees advance through the same stages from addiction to independence and personal success. It helps people realize they still have value and can have hope for the future. People who never thought they had a future are full-time workers with full lives again. 

What can other auto shops take and use from the example of Second Chance Auto? Clearly there is an auto tech shortage, and some of those workers have left the industry because of addiction. Is it possible to transition more of them back into work through vocational training or similar targeted programs? How do shops help workers without increasing their own liability or the incidence of accidents or mistakes? 

It’s one thing to run a vocational training program that has a secondary goal of making a profit and another to run a business and try to help individual employees with personal problems. Many auto shops are smaller businesses with thin profit margins. For these situations it would be good to see ideas put forward about how to help those auto repair workers who are struggling with life issues like addiction so they too can have a second chance.

Does your auto repair shop have experience managing workers with substance abuse? Have you seen other successful programs? Weigh in either on this post or on our forums for your ideas about this problem and what we should be doing as an industry to solve it. 



  1. The harsh reality…it’s their addiction. They have to deal with it and follow the protocol of living in recovery.

    That said, of course, we don’t want to make it more difficult for them to achieve that. Most recovery programs involve many meetings. Depending on where you live those number of meetings that are accessible and when they occur vary.

    I would just try to take interest in them as people, that they are actively working a program, and do what you can to reasonably support them living in recovery. If that means they have to shop up a little late or leave a little early some days of the week, try to work it out to make up that time or some other solution.

    If they’re decent employees and co-workers, hopefully, everyone is willing to be supportive of that.

    That said, in a recovery program, most are not instructed to get any special treatment to live in recovery, as I mentioned earlier, it is THEIR addiction.

  2. I recently let go one of my best diagnostic guys due to substance abuse. I have tried for three years and he could not get clean. His work errors started costing me to much loss and his dealers that he owned money to started showing up at the shop. I am down to one good mechanic and I had 5 mechanics at one time. I’m at a lost right now and need to recover quickly!

  3. Addiction is such a broad topic. There’s just a lot going on.

    It extends beyond substances into social media, drama, self-harm, adrenaline, gambling, sex, pornography, etc, etc.

    I don’t even want to start typing about it as I think I could write a novel and it would be boring and disorganized.

    I would also add that opioids are getting all the press, but methamphetamine addiction is growing at a scary, scary pace.