COVID-19, Unemployment & The Link to Addiction

COVID-19, Unemployment & The Link to Addiction

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world and created chaos. Not only is this deadly virus extremely contagious, but it’s also caused unprecedented closures, resulting in record unemployment rates. The United States unemployment rate was reported at 4.4% in March 2020. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the United States since mid-March, with 3.8 million filing claims in the last week alone. Economists have hypothesized that the unemployment rate could reach 20% in April, just below the 25% unemployment rate from the Great Depression.

More than 1 million Americans have been infected and over 61,700 have died as a result of the virus, which has killed more than 231,000 people worldwide. The United States has the highest number of infected persons of any country in the world. This is not only scary from a physical health perspective, but also from a mental and emotional health perspective. Social distancing guidelines have been implemented nationwide, with people wearing masks and gloves in public places and staying six feet apart from one another. In some states, individuals are only allowed to travel for essential items and exercise and businesses are not permitted to operate. As of April 30, 2020, federal social distancing guidelines have expired, however many states still have guidelines in place. Some have extended well into May, with others looking at the first week of May as a target for reopening certain businesses.

While so many have been isolated at home, they’ve had ample time to worry about their health, the health of the economy, and the stress of trying to pay bills when not working. People are concerned about basic needs right now, such as food and shelter, as many don’t have the funds necessary to pay their rent or purchase groceries for themselves or their children. All of this devastation and trauma can lead people to pretty dark places, resulting in finding coping mechanisms that are unhealthy.

COVID-19 & The Link To Substance Use

Isolation is not good for people in recovery. They depend on meetings and support groups to strengthen their sobriety. There have been meetings online, which is an amazing resource, but it’s not the same as finding fellowship with people in person. Isolation allows for too much time and idle hands, which isn’t good for anyone who is struggling. Add to that increased amounts of stress, and you’ve got the perfect formula for relapse to occur.

For those who are struggling with substances, the pandemic has only increased their desire to use drugs and alcohol. Using substances helps to quiet fear and provides an escape from the constant depression and stress that’s weighing everyone down like a wet blanket. The world we’re living in looks entirely different from 6 weeks ago, when things were “normal.” This rapid change, with schools closing and people being told to shelter in place, is overwhelming and scary, especially when we don’t know what will happen moving forward and experts are projecting a second wave of the virus to hit in the fall.

To top off the isolation, many are struggling financially as a result of not being employed. Being unemployed is a trigger for relapse and there are large backlogs of unemployment claims due to the system being overburdened by the sheer volume of people filing. With so many people unemployed, it’s important to consider the statistics regarding unemployment and addiction. A study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 1 in 6 unemployed workers are addicted to alcohol or drugs – nearly twice the rate of full-time workers. While 17% of full-time workers had a substance use disorder within the past year, only 9% of full-time workers were diagnosed.

A National Institute of Health (NIH) compilation of over 130 studies conducted over a twenty-year period found that unemployment and substance abuse have an impact on one another. The main results identified the following:

  • Risky alcohol consumption (associated with hazardous, binge, and heavy drinking) is more prevalent among the unemployed. They are also more likely to be smokers, to use illicit and prescription drugs, and to have alcohol and drug disorders (abuse, dependence).
  • Problematic substance use increases the likelihood of unemployment and decreases the chance of finding and holding down a job.
  • Unemployment increases the risk of relapse after alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
  • Unemployed people are 87% more likely to report heavy alcohol use and 29% more likely to develop alcohol dependence.
  • Unemployed people are 65% more likely to have illicit drug use and 57% more likely to develop a dependency on drugs.

The Opioid Epidemic & The Economic Costs

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the largest public health crisis was the opioid epidemic. That has not gone away and has likely worsened as a result of more people being isolated and unemployed. Having a job and seeing friends/family members helped to hold people accountable and with greater separation and lack of routine, that accountability is gone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 21.2 million Americans aged 12 or older needed substance abuse treatment in 2018. Only 1.4 million received some form of treatment.

Addiction makes a direct impact on one’s health and relationships, but also on the economy as a whole. It’s incredibly expensive to treat addiction, which is directly responsible for $4 billion in direct health care costs. Those diagnosed with substance use disorder are also 3.5 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. Studies have found that as the unemployment rate increases by 1 percent in a given county, the opioid-death rate rises by 3.6 percent and emergency room visits increase by 7 percent. Additionally, people in dire financial straits have found ways to purchase cheaper drugs, rather than foregoing their fix. This means that people are using more questionable substances, resulting in higher numbers of ER visits.

Recovery Resources Are Needed Now More Than Ever

What historical data has proven is that when unemployment rises, so does addiction. With coronavirus creating distance and isolation, as well as record unemployment rates, addiction issues are rising, even if we haven’t seen the full impact of that yet. We’re prepared and ready. Defining Wellness Centers is taking precautions against coronavirus for the health and safety of our clients and have screening measures in place for new clients who are admitting to our program.

Our team recognizes the trauma that occurs in a crisis, epidemic, and now pandemic, and is prepared to help our incoming clients cope with what they’ve been going through. We’re experiencing an unprecedented global event at present, and navigating it with resiliency so that we can continue to be a resource to the recovering community. Our facility is open and we’re available to answer questions, provide resources, and be a support for those who are struggling. If you’re considering treatment or worried about your substance use please call us at
Begin your Recovery Today
(855) 790-9303. We’re here to help you or your loved one to get clean, sober, and on the path toward a healthy outcome.