Worker Substance Abuse Increased During Pandemic

Survey reports 49% of US workers are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse

April 19, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic not only left millions of American workers unemployed, but also struggling with substance abuse without preventative resources and rehabilitation programs, according to The New York Times. A recent study conducted by Versta Research on behalf of The Standard reported that substance abuse increased during the pandemic—nearly doubling since 2019, according to a news release.

The 2020 Behavioral Health Impact Update survey examined workplace behavioral health during the coronavirus pandemic and compared the results of this latest study to its 2019 survey results. The survey included 1,425 full-time U.S. employees who answered questions about mental and behavioral health issues in the workplace. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 69 from all industries and economic sectors except the federal government.

The study found:

  • 49% of surveyed workers reported struggling with some level of addiction
  • 36% reported substance abuse affected their work more since the pandemic began
  • Nearly half of full-time workers reported problem use of alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication
  • 19% reported weekly substance usage
  • One in 10 reported struggling with prescription medication during the past year.

 “The research not only reveals an alarming rate of alcohol and other substance abuse among workers across a variety of industries and generations, but also paves the way for employers to open the conversation with employees about these issues,” said Dan Jolivet, MD, workplace possibilities practice consultant at The Standard.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found there was a 29% rise—involving more than 87,000 people—in drug overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. This is the highest death toll since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s, according to The New York Times. The largest increases were during April and May 2020 when many states had shutdown orders in place and workers lost jobs, according to The Hill.

“With health departments spending so much on COVID-19, some programs have really had to cut their budgets,” Sara Glick, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, told The New York Times.

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