Trucking Industry Recruitment: Drug Use in the Industry and How Companies are Combatting It

Drugs and substance use and abuse have been a dark and shadowy undercurrent to life for many Americans for decades.  In the U.S. today, news stories about marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and other drugs are on our televisions constantly.  Children are introduced to the dangers of substance abuse at an extremely young age in an effort to curb drug use early.  Today, almost everyone knows the effects of these plants and concoctions, but, surprisingly, very few people think about drug use among occupational truck drivers.  With long hours in lonely truck cabs, though, it should come as no surprise that America’s truck drivers sometimes turn to illicit substances to pass the time and make the days and weeks of hard travel easier for themselves. 

Even though the Department of Transportation (DOT) considers truck driving to be a “safety sensitive occupation,” meaning drug use is strictly prohibited by laws and regulations, thousands of drivers fail drug testing every year.  For DOT officials and driver supervisors, each of these failed tests represents a driver who is not sober on the road, and, therefore, a hazard to himself and the vehicles around them.  The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, set up in 2019 by the federal government to capture and keep track of drug violations by truck drivers, has noted an uptick in the number of positive drug test results, particularly from 2021 to 2022.  In that year, there was a 31.6% increase in marijuana violations alone.  However, marijuana is not the only drug that truck drivers have been caught using, whether via testing or other methods.  FreightWaves reported recently that they believe the U.S. DOT to be underreporting incidences of cocaine usage by truck drivers, which is truly terrifying to consider the ramifications of this issue.  It is also important to remember that due to some of the physical aspects of driving a semi-truck can lead to pains and injuries that cause drivers to engage in the use of opioids (for more on this, please see our post about the physical ailments of truck drivers from February 2023); sometimes, truckers will become addicted to these medications, creating further problems for everyone. 

“And Miles to Go Before I Sleep…”

Many truck drivers are tested for drugs before they are hired by any and every carrier.  After that, most trucking companies will require drivers to make themselves available for random drug testing in an attempt to make sure that their truckers are making safe decisions on the road. 

After sifting through mountains of research, experts tend to agree that there appears to be two main reasons for drug use among drivers.  The first is to combat the long hours of driving, and, for the majority of drivers, all of these hours usually take place alone.  For drivers pushing themselves too hard to make strict deadlines, some believe that they need a pick-me-up that is stronger than the regular person’s cup, or three, of coffee.  With no one to talk to help them stay awake, sleeping behind the wheel becomes a very real and very deadly threat.  These truckers find themselves turning to cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines to stay awake on the road.  Between delays at ports and warehouses to heavy traffic to strict deadlines for drop offs and pick-ups, stimulant use has been rising steadily for years among drivers, becoming extremely apparent in the intervening years since the Covid-19 pandemic, which laid bare the issues of staffing in the trucking industry.  These staffing problems continue to persist due to the retirements and pending retirements of thousands of more truckers.  Among drivers who self-reported to addiction treatment centers, 21.3% of drivers admitted to using amphetamines to the point that they felt addicted to them.  A further 2.2% reported themselves as being addicted to cocaine.  In 2020, alone, over 10,000 drivers were tested positive for stimulant drugs, according to a report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

The other main reason for truck drivers to take drugs is to ease the stresses of truck driving.  These truckers turn to alcohol and marijuana to take the edge off of the long hours in the truck.  Marijuana, in particular, has seen a consistent increase in positive testing over the past decade.  This is an especially sticky subject, though, because this drug is being legalized in parts of the country, making it difficult for truck drivers and truck carriers alike to navigate the minefield of whether or not it is okay to take these, now, legal drugs.  Over 15,000 drivers tested positive for having THC in their systems in 2020, but those numbers have only grown.  The next year, in 2021, over 40,000 drivers had positive tests for marijuana, according to the Clearinghouse.  Even though it is becoming legal in many places, there are still concerns about its usage in truck drivers, since it can cause impaired memory, mood changes, delusions, and difficulty with problem-solving skills.

Be Careful of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

Drug testing is still the best method of keeping substance-abusing truck drivers off of the road.  However, it is no easy feat to randomly test truckers.  As stated earlier, some drivers are out carrying loads for weeks, so finding the time to bring them in for a test can be difficult.  Some truckers are also now refusing to be tested, due to the fact that they understand they will fail the drug test and be deemed a drug user by the industry.  In June of 2023, found that a poll of licensed U.S. truck drivers 72.4% of them believe that because of federal loosening of marijuana laws should trickle down into the trucking industry.  65.4% of those drivers also believe that drug testing should find a way to test the active impairment of truckers who test positive for marijuana.  Those drivers that live in states where marijuana is legal are fighting the hardest, with some saying that carriers that are more open to off-duty marijuana use will make the industry more attractive to new, younger drivers, which the industry is struggling to bring in as quickly as possible.    

There are also debates on the best method of testing drivers for substance abuse.  For now, the urinalysis is the standard for testing among truck carriers.  Since it is the standard across most industries, almost all truck drivers must submit to a urine drug test before they can be hired.  However, some companies are hoping to change the standard.  The Trucking Alliance, made up of companies like J.B. Hunt, Knight-Swift Transportation, US Xpress, and Schneider, is promoting hair analysis now.  Lane Kidd, the managing director of the Trucking Alliance, states that “Drug-impaired truck driver are a critical public safety issue, but employing these drivers can be a considerable liability risk.”  By starting to introduce hair testing, Kidd and the Trucking Alliance believe that they have found a more accurate way to test the impairment, and they are now trying to promote both urine and hair analysis to the DOT and Office of Management and Budget to see that they are included in future regulations.


This article is only a brief overview of the myriad of issues involving drug use and trucking.  The goal, here, is to shed light on a problem that can create dangers for everyone on the highways and byways of America.  Truck drivers lead difficult lives, and their bodies and minds can suffer from sitting alone in a truck cab day in and day out for years on end.  It should come as no surprise to everyone else that some of them turn to drugs to try and soothe their aches and pains.  With the many dangers that accompany the use of substances such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and opioids, however, it is important to make sure that drivers struggling with drug use have a way to ask safely and discreetly ask for help and receive it. 


Meaghan Goldberg covers recruitment and digital marketing for Lionzone.  A Patterson, GA native, after graduating from both Valdosta State University and Middle Tennessee State University, Meaghan joined Lionzone in 2018 as a digital recruitment strategist before becoming the social media manager.



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