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How Employment Status Cause Addiction

Employment status basically refers to whether an individual is employed or unemployed. The employment status of individuals contributes significantly to addiction. Unemployment, job insecurity, and work overload are some of the key employment elements that are associated with addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disease, covering the compulsive use of substances, such as alcohol, and engaging in behaviors, such as gambling. The symptoms addiction presents include cravings, loss of control, going to any length or doing anything to engage in a behavior or using a substance, denial, etc. Its effects are enormous, including lower productivity for employed individuals, high risk of job loss, compromised safety of co-workers, mental health disorders, physical health conditions, etc.

Can Employment Status Predict an Addiction?

According to a study done by the American Psychological Association in 2015, there’s a link between personality changes and employment status. One of the hypotheses is that the stress and depression caused by unfavorable employment status negatively affect personality factors (openness, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism). The study showed that individuals with unfavorable employment status scored higher in neuroticism only, scoring lower in others. Therefore, it supports the supposition that employment status can predict addictive behaviors.

Similarly, a study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 showed that American adults experienced an increase in the incidence of mental health conditions leading to substance abuse when employment started declining in record numbers. Significantly higher levels of anxiety and drug use were reported by young adults, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers. It therefore confirms the prediction of addiction by employment status.

Does Unemployment Cause Addiction?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17% of unemployed individuals had a substance use disorder in 2012. The number almost halved for full-time workers, with only about 9% of full-time workers reported to have a substance use disorder.

Therefore, unemployment does contribute to the development of addiction. Individuals who are unable to secure and/or maintain a job face diverse challenges, including financial problems, low self-esteem or confidence, anxiety, and depression, that predispose them to addiction.

Also, suddenly losing one’s job is a traumatic event. Unless another job is secured quickly, affected individuals are more likely to develop substance use disorders. However, it is important to highlight that not all unemployed individuals or everyone who suddenly loses their jobs develops addiction. Personality traits, culture or belief, coping mechanisms, and support are some other key factors that determine whether an individual will be addicted or not.

Do Employed Individuals Develop Addiction?

Approximately half of the people with a substance use disorder in the US are employed, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Therefore, employed individuals also face the risk of addiction based on the following factors:

Job insecurity: individuals who have a job but are at the risk of losing it, for diverse reasons, are typically in fear and anxious. Such anxiety or fear is often overwhelming, leading to an increased risk of turning to substances or behaviors for escape or relief.

Work overload: some individuals are stretched to the very limits by their work schedules, making it difficult for them to balance their lives. They often use substances to enable them to fulfill all job duties or as a means of escape from the stress of work. Hence, they are at a higher risk of addiction.

Co-workers with substance use disorder: individuals who have co-workers that have substance use disorders are sometimes exposed to substances, leading to an increased risk of addiction.

How Employment Status Causes Addiction

How Do You Know You Have Developed Addiction?

Recognizing addiction early is very important, as it significantly reduces the disruption it causes and improves the possibility of making a full recovery. When addiction is discovered early, treatment is less disruptive, faster, and cheaper. Unfortunately, many individuals and people around them don’t realize they have addiction issues until they are knee-deep. This is especially true for behavioral addictions such as gambling addiction that do not present very obvious signs like drugs or alcohol addiction. However, the signs are always there if you pay attention to them.

Therefore, if you are wondering whether your employment status has led to addiction, some of the most common symptoms of addiction are listed below:

  • Lack of control over the use of substances or engagement in behaviors
  • Strong desire for substances or behaviors
  • Substances or behaviors are used as an escape
  • A lot of time and effort is dedicated to indulging in behaviors or using substances
  • Lower productivity or poorer performance
  • Failing relationships
  • Hiding a behavior or the use of a substance and its effects
  • Getting a substance or engaging in a behavior by all means, including dangerous and illegal means
  • Denying there is a problem
How Employment Status Causes Addiction

What are the Effects of Addiction?

Addiction has enormous effects on individuals, depending on the behaviors or substances used, the level of use, duration of use, etc. The effects range from mild to severe.

Makes getting a job more difficult or increases the risk of losing a job: if getting or maintaining a job has been difficult, addiction will make it extremely harder because individuals now spend more or most of their time and effort thinking and using substances or engaging in behaviors. In fact, they usually have to “restart” their lives because addiction leads to a “loss of self”.

Other effects of addiction are:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Organ (Liver, kidney, and pancreas) damage
  • Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • Overdose: drug addiction leads to an increased risk of overdose, which has severe consequences, including death

What are the Other Potential Causes of Addiction?

Addiction typically involves the combination of different causative factors. For instance, not everyone who is unemployed ends up with substance use issues. Other factors that often come into play in the development of addiction are:

Genetic predisposition

Certain genes have been found to be associated with some addiction issues. Alcohol dehydrogenase 1B (ADH1B), CHRM2, and GABRA2 are examples of addictive genes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that genetics influences addiction. Therefore, individuals with a history of the abuse of these substances in their family are at a higher risk of misusing or abusing them. However, it must be noted that, unlike some think, genetic predisposition does not mean it will happen.

Trauma and extreme stress

Traumatic events are usually very overwhelming for individuals. The waves of negative emotions that follow are capable of causing individuals to “lose it”. For instance, individuals who are victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, or a fatal accident are more likely to be extremely bitter, filled with regret, anxious, and depressed. These negative emotions are highly discomforting. Hence, they often turn to substances for relief or escape. The relief they get is temporary, leading to them continuing the use of the substance. So, they are at a high risk of developing addiction. The same thing applies to extreme or chronic stress.

Exposure and easy access to addictive substances

Individuals, especially young people, who are exposed to substances, perhaps because a family member or their peers use them, are at a higher risk of developing addiction. Similarly, if they live in an environment where the use of substances or certain compulsive behaviors are common, they are more likely to develop addiction. Individuals who are exposed to substances early face a higher risk of addiction.

Personality traits

The personality traits of individuals play key roles in how they act or react to things. For instance, highly impulsive individuals do things on a whim, without considering what’s at stake or the consequences. They typically live ‘in the moment’, hence are at a higher risk of addiction.

Mental health disorders

The cycle of mental health disorders and substance use disorders is a very complex one, such that it is almost certain that an individual with one will develop the other if not treated early. For instance, individuals with depression and anxiety are more likely to self-medicate, leading to the use of substances or engaging in compulsive behaviors for relief or escape. The resulting addiction leads to a further complication of mental health issues faced.

Note: having one or more of these risk factors does not make addiction inevitable for an individual. However, it surely means they are at a higher risk of developing addiction. Hence, they should be more cautious.

How Does Employment Status Affect Addiction Treatment?

In the treatment of addiction, experts take diverse things including employment status into consideration. In fact, an important aspect of addiction recovery is to help individuals rediscover themselves and become an important part of society. Employment status affects addiction treatment in the following ways:

The type of treatment setting: the settings of addiction treatment are either inpatient or outpatient. Individuals undergoing inpatient treatment cannot go to work, hence they have to get the approval of their employers if they have a job and typically have a timeline. Individuals without a job don’t have the pressure of finishing rehab within a timeframe. Some rehab centers, such as vocational rehabilitation, help individuals in recovery without a job to develop necessary skills, search for a job, and maintain the job.

Individuals undergoing outpatient treatment continue their work while attending scheduled treatment meetings at a rehab center. Therefore, treatment is more flexible. However, it is only effective for less severe addiction cases.

Funding: one of the major barriers to addiction treatment is financial constraints. Unemployed individuals will find it more difficult to fund addiction treatment programs. Thankfully, other good options are available, such as nonprofit organizations that support addiction recovery.

Purpose: an essential part of addiction recovery is helping individuals set goals and dreams. This helps to redirect negative thoughts and emotions to something positive and productive. Getting and maintaining a job is typically a part of this. Individuals who have a job or are set on getting a job are more driven in their recovery journey.

Is Community Violence a Cause of Addiction?

Community violence is a very traumatic event for individuals who experience it. Having to live in constant fear of harm or death or loss is deeply traumatic. Like other traumatic events, it unleashes a wave of negative emotions that causes individuals to turn to substances or behaviors for relief or escape. Therefore, it increases the risk of addiction.

Can Individuals Develop Addiction in a Workplace?

Yes. Individuals develop addiction in the workplace mostly because of job stress (work overload) and job insecurity, but also due to a co-worker’s addiction. For instance, jobs in mining, construction, and certain service industries have higher occurrences of substance and alcohol use disorders, according to the National Safety Council. Generally, the American Addiction Center reported that about 9% of full-time workers had a substance use disorder in 2023. It significantly affects work productivity and sometimes the safety of co-workers because the risk of accidents is higher.

Can community violence cause addiction?

A common misconception is that only illegal substances or traumatic experiences can lead to addiction. This is due to the fact that individuals may turn to substances as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress and trauma of their environment. In addition, unemployment and financial instability resulting from community violence can also lead to increased substance abuse as a means to cope with the challenges of daily life.

Can a disrupted family cause addiction?

Yes, a disrupted family can play a role in the development of addiction. Children growing up in a family with unstable or inconsistent relationships and communication may experience feelings of loneliness, insecurity, and low self-esteem, which can lead to them self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, a lack of parental support and guidance can contribute to a higher risk of substance abuse.

Adam Siegel
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Adam is the lead addiction therapist at Olympic Behavioral Health and has been in the field of addiction treatment since 2009. Adam earned his associate degree in Applied Science for Chemical Dependency Counseling from Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY, in 2009 and became a Certified Addiction Counselor in 2016. He is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work Program at Florida Atlantic University to obtain his MSW. Adam is also in long term sobriety which allows him to relate with patients on a deeper level.

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