Much of the media coverage of the opioid crisis in the US calls addiction a “disease of despair” and points to the high levels of unemployment in the areas most heavily affected by opioid addiction. There does seem to be a significant overlap between between addiction and unemployment, but does that mean unemployment causes addiction? As with most correlations, the relationship between addiction and unemployment is complicated. However, it does appear that unemployment may be a significant factor in developing addiction. For example, nationwide, consumption of alcohol and other drugs tends to go up when unemployment goes up. People feel more stressed and use substances to cope. However, just having less money doesn’t seem to increase substance use. Specifically losing a job contributes to more substance use, most likely because losing a job has such a huge impact on identity and self-esteem. After losing a job, your likelihood of developing depression rises the longer you remain unemployed, and depression is a major risk factor for addiction. One study found that every time the unemployment rate increases by one percent in a given county, the opioid death rate increases by 3.6 percent and emergency room visits increase by seven percent. That’s a pretty specific dose-response relationship. However, the relationship is a little more complicated than unemployment causing addiction. Sometimes employment causes addiction–and unemployment. In jobs where injury rates are high, for example, timbering, mining, construction, and heavy industry, workers often use drugs and alcohol to cope with injuries and dangerous working conditions. These types of jobs are especially common in areas like West Virginia and Ohio, where the death rate from opioids is highest. Workers often get injured and lose their jobs but remain addicted to alcohol or opioids. Another way unemployment and addiction are related has to do with treatment options. Most people get health insurance through their jobs. When they lose their jobs, they often lose their insurance as well. That creates an extra barrier to getting treatment. They have to pay out of pocket to even talk to their doctor about their treatment options. Therefore, people with no jobs have fewer options for getting addiction treatment. That said, addiction is complicated and employment status is just one factor. While the unemployed are about twice as likely as the fully employed to have a substance use issue, the likelihood is still less than 20 percent. That means more than 80 of people lose their jobs and don’t develop substance use issues. Factors like self-care, social support, and public resources can help reduce your risk.
If you’re struggling with substance use, Recovery Ways can help. We offer intensive outpatient treatment as well as residential treatment. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.