Social distancing measures, business shutdowns and lack of customers have sent tens of millions of Americans home without a job. The latest numbers show that unemployment rates jumped to 4.4% in March, but some economists believe this is the beginning of a trajectory that could lead to nearly one-third of America’s workforce becoming unemployed. Aside from the financial impact, another dangerous side effect of this increase would likely be a sharp rise in the number of Americans addicted to drugs or alcohol.

How Unemployment Creates Addiction

Research into over 130 studies found links between substance use, unemployment and relapse. In fact, studies show that even the fear of job loss can increase the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs. Those who are unemployed are much more likely to use drugs or alcohol and develop substance use disorders.

  • Compared to employed individuals, 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.

Those in recovery are also more likely to return to substance use, as the research shows that job loss is a substantial trigger for relapse.

If this relationship between substance abuse and unemployment holds steady, the result of mass American unemployment would be millions more people dealing with substance abuse and addiction. Further, these increased addiction rates would place a heavy burden on the American economy and health care system.

The Financial Impact of Addiction

For an individual, the cost of maintaining a long-term addiction can amount to tens of thousands of dollars each year. On a broader scale, however, addiction costs Americans billions of dollars annually.

The economic impact of just one million Americans developing substance dependence is astronomical. These account for $4 billion in direct health care costs, as well as $20 billion in total economic costs. Addiction also impacts employers, as people with substance use disorders account for 500 million lost workdays each year and are 3.5 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident.

A Greater Need for Recovery Resources

While the coronavirus is currently the greatest public health threat to the American people, it’s important not to forget the substance abuse crisis that already existed and may worsen as a result of its impact. In 2018, around 21.2 million Americans aged 12 or older needed treatment for substance abuse. Of these, only 1.4 million received it.

If America is potentially on the verge of a large increase in rates of substance use disorders due to job loss, it’s important that information and resources about substance abuse prevention and treatment are made widely available. We regularly publish updates on recovery topics, including news, wellness and tips for strengthening your recovery. We also offer a platform for anyone to host free online recovery meetings.

We know these are unprecedented times, with many people facing uncertainty and major life disruptions. If you or a loved one is developing or returning to unhealthy coping strategies as a result of COVID-19, The Recovery Village can help. Our facilities remain open during this time and we also offer teletherapy, to support those who are quarantined or practicing social distancing. Contact us today to learn more about recovery resources that can work well for your specific situation and personal needs.

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