The link between unemployment and addiction to substances such as drugs and alcohol has long been established. However, their relationship has been made more apparent in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic havoc it has wreaked within the US and beyond.
According to the latest figures published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment currently stands at around 6.9%. This is slightly lower than it was in the summer but remains much higher than it was in March. High rates of unemployment combined with increasingly precarious work arrangements, loss of income, and the fact that over 242,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far mean that the country is facing a serious mental health crisis. For current and recovering addicts, this is a scary prospect.
According to a survey of unemployed and furloughed workers carried out in June 2020, one in five respondents claimed they would use alcohol as a coping mechanism for job loss.
Although this data may seem startling, it is not unprecedented. Even before the pandemic, the National Institute of Health carried out a number of studies showing that unemployed people are 87% more likely to be heavy drinkers and 29% more likely to experience alcohol dependency compared to people in work. What’s more, the unemployed were shown to be 57% more likely to develop drug dependency issues compared to people in employment. As the combined forces of economic recession and the opioid crisis continue to sweep the country, these statistics represent a real cause for concern.
So, why are unemployment and addiction so tightly intertwined? And what can be done to help those out of work?
The Effects of Isolation
Losing your job, particularly during a global pandemic, can quickly lead to isolation. Untethered from the responsibilities that come with holding down a job, unemployed people often find themselves feeling lonely, free of purpose, and out of touch with society. This combination of emotions can be a recipe for disaster for new and recovering addicts, who may find that drugs and alcohol offer a kind of temporary escape from the difficulties of the outside world. Substances may also help to dampen their fears and depressive feelings in a way that is difficult to resist during supremely stressful times.
This problem is particularly acute during times of economic crisis when the jobs market is hyper competitive. Receiving rejection after rejection when hunting for a job can hurt people’s self-esteem, another factor that can contribute to addiction.
Addiction Makes Applying for Jobs More Difficult
It is also important to note that the physical and mental effects of drug and alcohol addiction can make applying for jobs a much slower and more difficult process. This is because substance abuse can hamper one’s ability to think clearly, complete tasks in a timely manner, and stay motivated when confronted with setbacks. Without the daily routine created by secure employment, it is all too easy to fall into destructive habits and perpetuate the addiction cycle.
The Link Between Addiction and the Economy
Addiction problems and the economy are tightly intertwined. Treating addiction is expensive and unemployed people are much less likely to have robust health insurance plans compared to those with jobs. After all, most people obtain health insurance through their workplace. This means that people with substance issues may have to pay out of pocket for treatment or ask for help from friends or family. If they are unable to do this, they may lose hope and their addiction problems may worsen.
The more people that are out of work and struggling to make ends meet, the higher the prevalence of addiction issues across the country. This can present an obstacle to rebuilding a robust workforce and achieving economic recovery.
Work Can Also Lead to Substance Abuse
Sometimes, the demands of the modern workplace can be a severe source of stress and can increase the risk of developing alcohol and drug dependencies. This is particularly true for people in the mining, construction, and timbering industries where work-related injuries are more common than in other sectors. Of course, addiction can also impact one’s ability to complete certain tasks and can therefore cause unemployment and perpetuate the vicious addiction cycle.
Now is an Important Time to Seek Help
For the recently unemployed or those who have been out of work for a while, the current jobs crisis presents a dangerous moment regarding mental health. If you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, or are feeling tempted by substances, it is vital that you seek help.
There are plenty of resources out there to help you get through this very difficult moment. One option that many don’t realize is available to them is outpatient treatment for substance abuse. Many outpatient facilities offer MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment, that allows for recovery that fits with a person’s existing lifestyle. Inpatient treatment can be wonderful, but it may not be accessible or feasible for everyone.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that this moment of pandemic crisis will not last forever and that the unemployment-addiction cycle is by no means an inevitability for anybody. Seek the help you need and deserve.