Can Unemployment Cause Addiction?

unemployed man looking for a job

Addiction affects people of all ages and demographics and many different factors contribute to the development of a substance use disorder.  Due to the recent economic shutdown caused by the spread of COVID-19 cases in America, unemployment rates have skyrocketed, leaving many people struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, health experts are warning of a wave of mental health problems on the heels of the pandemic that could include increased rates of substance abuse, PTSD, depression, and suicide.1 

While anxiety and isolation due to COVID-19 are very likely to contribute to this anticipated increase in mental health problems, one has to wonder if job loss and unemployment may also have an impact on potential rising substance abuse rates.

How Does Unemployment Influence Addiction?

Although most adults with substance use disorders are employed full-time, research supports the hypothesis that unemployment and job loss play a role in the development of addictive behaviors.2 

We often refer to people who are addicted yet continue to maintain a stable life as “high-functioning addicts.” While some addicted individuals can continue to use their drug of choice and still maintain their responsibilities, the ability to do so doesn’t usually last very long.

Addiction is a progressive, chronic disease that will get worse over time if it is left untreated. Not surprisingly, many severely addicted people end up losing their jobs as their addiction worsens.

Often, a job loss related to addiction can be attributed to:

  • Low performance at work
  • Serious or life-threatening mistakes
  • Irritability and severe mood swings
  • Inappropriate behavior or interactions with coworkers or clients
  • Consistent absences or tardies

These consequences are often a result of the physical and cognitive impairment caused by addictive substances such as powerful opioid painkillers or sedatives. 

One study published in September of 2019 backed this idea with scientific research. The study found that alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis use were associated with job loss, even when the drugs were used at moderate levels.3 This demonstrates the power that addictive substances have to potentially derail professional goals, careers, and financial stability, which all plays into psychological stability and good mental health.

On the other hand, unemployment may also precede the addiction and can pave a clear path to a substance use disorder due to factors like:

  • More free time
  • Increased stress and anxiety due to job loss
  • Depression, anxiety, and hopelessness
  • Financial difficulties

Data compiled from the 2005-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that unemployed Americans ages 18 and older were more likely to report consuming an illegal drug in the previous month than those who were employed full-time, part-time, or retired. The totals for past-month illegal drug use were as follows:4

  • 18 percent of unemployed individuals reported using illegal drugs in the previous month
  • 10 percent of part-time workers reported using illegal drugs in the previous month
  • 8 percent of full-time workers reported using illegal drugs in the previous month
  • Less than 6 percent for individuals in the “other” category (which includes retirees) reported using illegal drugs in the previous month

Although each person’s situation will vary and unemployment is not the only factor to consider, it’s clear that job loss preceding or succeeding addiction can play a big role in how addiction and substance abuse play out in a person’s life.

Psychological Effects of Economic Recessions

In times of economic recessions, such as what we are experiencing now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people suffer from negative psychological effects. Although economists say this recession is likely to be shorter-lived than others we have experienced as a country, it could still greatly affect many Americans’ mental and physical health in several different ways.5

Research studies have proven that drug usage increases in times of economic recession because unemployment increases psychological distress.6 Simply put, people suffer from feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and hopelessness when they struggle financially. Often, they don’t know how to cope so they turn to drugs or alcohol for relief.

What Are Other Major Risk Factors for Addiction?

Unemployment may be a major factor that contributes to the development of substance use disorders, but according to the Center on Addiction, several other risk factors are also associated with addiction, including:7

  • Genetics
  • Certain brain characteristics that researchers have found can increase your vulnerability to addiction
  • Exposure to extreme stress, abuse, or trauma
  • Exposure to substance abuse in the family or among peers
  • Easy access to addictive substances
  • Starting using drugs or smoking at an early age
  • Certain personality traits like being highly impulsive
  • Experiencing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders

Just because someone has one or more of these risk factors, doesn’t mean he or she will develop a substance use disorder. However, the main thing to understand is that the more risk factors are present, the more likely someone is to develop an addiction problem.

Struggling to Cope? Let Us Help You Overcome Your Addiction and Start Making Positive Life Changes

Amid a pandemic, economic recession, and potential unemployment, you may be tempted to push your substance abuse problems under the rug to deal with them later. It may seem unimportant or less pressing than other issues you’re facing, but your drug or alcohol abuse is likely hindering your ability to deal with life and move forward toward better things.

Drug and alcohol addiction has serious consequences that could change your life forever, or even end it. Addressing your substance abuse first is essential if you want to learn how to cope during difficult times, make healthy, good decisions for yourself and your family, and build resilience that will allow you to bounce back from hard times more quickly.

If you’re ready to make a change and deal with your substance abuse problem, call Briarwood Detox Center today at (888) 857-0557. We provide personalized holistic drug and alcohol detox programs and our facility is in-network with many different insurance companies. Start living your new life today and let us help you work toward a better future, regardless of your current circumstances.


  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SP132-FullTime-2014/NSDUH-SP132-FullTime-2014.pdf
  3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0222361
  4. https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/july-2013/exploring-the-link-between-drug-use-and-job-status-in-the-us
  5. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/09/us-officially-in-a-recession-but-its-different-than-2008.html
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395917300877
  7. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction/addiction-risk-factors

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