Survey Shows 1 in 6 Unemployed Workers Addicted To Drugs

By McCarton Ackerman 12/03/13

The reported number is double that of employed workers, though the real number might actually be higher.

Unemployment and abuse go hand in hand.
Photo via Shutterstock

A recent report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health says that one in six unemployed workers are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The survey showed that 17% of unemployed workers had a substance abuse problem, nearly double the percentage of full-time workers who reported problems with drugs or alcohol at 9%. Because the survey relied completely on self-reported data, the percentage of unemployed workers with a drug problem could be even higher.

University of Miami sociologist Michael French said that unemployment and substance abuse go hand in hand. “On one hand, their income falls and they’re less able to afford alcohol or drugs. But at the same time, they’re faced with more idle time to fill recreational activities,” he said. “The leisure effect is dominating the income effect. We find that when the unemployment rate increases, all else equal, drinking increases.”

Eight states currently require unemployed people to take drug tests in order to determine their eligibility for welfare and other forms of government assistance. Arizona was the first state to adopt the program  in 2009 and officials claimed the testing could save the state $1.7 million per year, but it was confirmed in 2012 that only one person had failed a drug test out of the 87,000 screenings which took place in the state during those three years.

It’s not just the unemployed, however, who are struggling with drugs. A record 21 million American adults had a substance abuse problem in 2012, half of whom had full-time jobs. Alcohol was the most commonly abused substance, but 40% of those addicted to marijuana, cocaine and heroin also had full-time employment. Approximately 9% of full-time employees identified themselves as casual drug users who had used an illicit substance in the prior month.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.