Recession, Unemployment, and Drug Addiction: What’s the Link?

2 min read · 4 sections

What is the Link Between Drug Addiction and Unemployment?

person starting job search after experiencing coronavirus unemployment and alcohol consumption

Research suggests that unemployment rate is significantly associated with substance use treatment admissions. For instance, a unit increase in state unemployment rate was associated with a 9% increase in treatment admissions for opioids. Similar results were found for other substances, including admissions for cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.1

Other studies suggest that economic recessions and unemployment may affect illicit drug use in different ways. For most, the psychological distress associated with an economic downturn increases use. In rarer cases, the lack of income means reduced purchasing power and decreased drug use. For instance, one study from southeast Michigan found that a lower household income was associated with a higher likelihood of initiating marijuana use; however, a decrease in economic resources was associated with a lower likelihood of initiating marijuana use among adults.2

Additionally, studies in other parts of the world showed that individuals, who already used substances, switched to cheaper pills instead of cocaine, for instance, during times of recession and unemployment.2 Research suggests that individuals, who already used substances, may switch to less expensive (and riskier) drug alternatives—alcohol mixed with illicit substances or injecting drugs to maximize the psychoactive impact, for example.2

Also, there is some evidence to indicate that the longer periods of unemployment and social exclusion lead to increased substance use.2

Why Does Unemployment Promote Substance Misuse and Addiction?

Unemployment is a risk factor for substance misuse and substance use disorders, according to a review of studies done on the topic. Research suggests that becoming unemployed and losing an income can lead to psychosocial stress, which can worsen an individual’s health and lead to short-term coping strategies, including substance use. In particular, data shows that job loss was associated with a higher risk of alcohol-related health problems and the development of an alcohol use disorder as well as illicit drug use and illicit drug dependence, wherein the body becomes so used to having the substance present that suddenly stopping use or significantly reducing the dose can bring on withdrawal symptoms.3

Additionally, unemployed individuals showed significantly higher rates of problematic drinking patterns than their employed counterparts. The unemployed individuals consumed larger amounts of alcohol and drank alcohol more frequently than employed individuals. Results were similar for cannabis use and for methamphetamine use as well.3

Is Addiction a Contributing Factor to Unemployment?

In the same way that unemployment is a risk factor for substance use disorders, substance use disorders are a risk factor for unemployment.3

Addiction in the workplace negatively impacts labor market outcomes. Studies show that problematic substance use increased the risk of unemployment because individuals struggling with substance use have a higher likelihood of taking more sick leave and being less productive at work—both of which can increase the likelihood of becoming unemployed. Research indicates that addiction also makes it more difficult to be rehired or find new employment.3

Additionally, numerous studies reveal that individuals who seek addiction treatment but remain unemployed after treatment are 2 to 3 times more likely to relapse than those who were employed after treatment.4

Is Economic Recession Impacting Addiction Rates?

Drawing on U.S. data from 2002-2015, there is robust evidence that economic downturns lead to increases in the use of prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes as well as increases in the number of individuals with an opioid use disorder. Additionally, economic downturns are associated with statistically significant increases in the use alcohol and marijuana, as previously mentioned, as well as ecstasy and heroin and decreases in the use of LSD and cocaine.5

Regardless of the economic climate, if you or a loved one struggle with problematic substance use or addiction, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. Call to speak to one of our compassionate and knowledgeable admissions navigators, who will listen to your story, explain your treatment options, verify your insurance and/or discuss other ways to pay for treatment, and help you get started on your road to recovery today.

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