Working as a flight attendant with its demanding schedules, jet lag, and solitary hotel living can take its toll. Like other high-stress jobs, flight attendants can become vulnerable to the use of drugs or alcohol to cope with their work. Abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms can pave the way to substance dependency and full-blown addiction.
The High Skies: A High-Stress Environment
Flight attendants face a wide range of factors that impact their workplace—the aircraft they serve on. These factors are routine aspects of the job, but they cause various forms of stress that are both physical and mental in nature. Stress can be a key driver of addiction. One of the most basic and common stressors that contribute to flight attendants’ stress is a lack of sleep, as well as a lack of good sleep.
Flight attendants, owing to the nature of the job, are continually forced to change their sleep schedules, and that causes near-constant disruptions to their circadian rhythms. These disruptions can lead people to feel fatigued. Perpetual physical exhaustion can lead to mental exhaustion as well, and leave flight attendants vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Many flight attendants have turned to the use of sedatives to help them get to sleep in unfamiliar settings and uncomfortable hotel beds. Establishing a pattern of using or abusing sedatives or substances like alcohol can pave a path to addiction.
Sleep deprivation isn’t the only stress that flight attendants face either. Their jobs can be highly unpredictable, which is another contributor to stress. Many flight attendants have reported experiencing traumatic incidents that have caused them acute distress. Some of the most common incidents on the job that flight attendants have reported include:
- The threat of hijacking or terrorism.
- Passenger insults.
- Physical assault by passengers.
- The death of a passenger during a flight or a medical emergency.
- Emergency evacuations/landings.
- Mechanical airplane problems during a flight.
- Severe turbulence
These stressors can make individuals more vulnerable to mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which are, themselves, triggers for alcohol and drug use/misuse.
Finally, there are also the more personal stressful aspects of the job, such as trying to balance life—and a job that takes individuals thousands of miles away from that life—on a routine basis. For many flight attendants, the constant travel can affect their relationships with their partners and families. Many attendants find it difficult to be away when their family is in crisis or coping with a stress of its own.
Addiction Among Flight Attendants
Alcohol and drug addiction as well as mental health disorders affect the lives of thousands of flight attendants. The chronic nature of their job stressors can make it difficult for them to cope in healthy ways. For instance, routine exercise is a noted stress reducer, but it can be challenging for flight attendants to find gyms or yoga centers in unknown cities, much less the time between their flights.
The truth is, alcohol and drugs are a tempting solution to the immediate and chronic stress that these employees face. They may be unhealthy solutions, but they help individuals cope in the short term. However, as individuals begin to rely on drugs or alcohol to get by and help them manage their stress, they can become increasingly dependent on these substances, not only physically but mentally, too. Once a person has become physically and psychologically dependent on drugs or alcohol, they have become addicted.
Stressors and Vulnerabilities Recognized by the Industry
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the flight industry as a whole recognize the mental health vulnerabilities that airline employees, particularly flight attendants and pilots, experience because of the nature of their jobs. Many airlines, for example, have initiated special programs designed to help employees suffering from addiction or mental health disorders. Airlines, of course, are liable when their employees make mistakes, sometimes tragic mistakes, because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Even so, many flight attendants are apprehensive about admitting that they have a drug or alcohol use disorder because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. They are concerned that they will be labeled and subject to reduced opportunities for advancement. They may be concerned about job loss. That’s why the industry and private sector has developed special treatment programs for flight attendants and pilots to encourage them to seek professional help for managing their addiction.
Treating Addiction Experienced by Flight Attendants
There are many addiction treatment programs that specialize in treating clients of a similar occupation. There are treatment centers that have developed addiction therapy programs for health care providers, police and fire fighters, for example. These, too, can be high-stress occupations that take a physical and mental toll on employees.
Of course, it’s not necessary to seek out a specialized program. It is necessary, however, to find high-quality addiction treatment that provides individualized counseling and medically sanctioned, evidence-based therapies designed to promote effective disease management. Substance addiction is a disease, and its treatment requires that each of its core aspects is addressed. A good treatment program will target the individual’s physical, psychological and behavioral dependencies. If any of these aspects are ignored, the person remains vulnerable to relapse.
It’s understandable that many flight attendants are concerned about the length of time they may be required to spend in rehab getting treatment. However, it’s important to note that addiction treatment is a health intervention. It is necessary medical care in much the same way that a surgery or illness can necessitate some time in treatment.
What’s important is that individuals address their addiction now and not later. Drug or alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that is frequently progressive. That means it’s likely to get worse without treatment. That can lead to health disasters or poor on-the-job performance.
While a rehab stay that includes medical detox is typically the start of treatment, there are many types of addiction treatment programs. Some flight attendants do choose to spend 30, 60, or even 90 days in an inpatient treatment rehab. Others transition more quickly from medical detox to an outpatient treatment plan. They have options. Many of these employees do choose to continue to work while attending therapy when they return to their home cities.
At FHE Health, many of our clients are from the airline industry. We understand the challenges that our clients face on the job, as well as in their personal lives. Our team of doctors and addiction specialists will tailor treatments to suit each person’s needs.
Addiction and mental health needs are frequently entwined. That’s why we’ve designed effective treatment programs to address both of these problems, helping our clients build a strong foundation for their recovery. Don’t wait to seek treatment and support if you suspect you are suffering from addiction or a mental health disorder. We can help.