As Jobs are Lost, Addiction Statistics Soar

Job loss, sad man sitting in front of the company

People turn to drugs and alcohol for many different reasons. For as many people that there are who are addicted, there are just as many reasons why those people use substances. Addicts are unique individuals. Each one will have his or her story of why they began using addictive substances.

Each addict’s situation is certainly unique to him or her. However, there can be common conditions that often lead people to experiment or self-medicate with drugs as a coping mechanism for life struggles. One such scenario occurs when an individual loses a job and is forced into poverty conditions; that can often be the first step towards substance abuse.

And when an entire community or city experiences significant job loss, that can be the first step towards city-wide poverty and a city-wide increase in substance abuse.

Harsh Economic Conditions and Drug Addiction

New research suggests that there is a direct relationship between economic conditions and drug abuse. Researchers analyzed U.S. manufacturing counties where automotive assembly plants closed. The researchers compared those counties to counties where automotive plants remained open. The study period examined was from 1999 to 2016.

The closure of automotive assembly plants in counties in the Midwest and the South that relied heavily on those plants for employment was directly associated with increases in opioid overdoses throughout those counties. Conversely, similar counties where plants stayed open did not experience such prominent increases in overdoses.

What Does the Research Tell Us?

It would seem as though there is a direct relationship here. Deteriorating economic conditions in manufacturing communities across the Midwest and South have contributed to the opioid epidemic that is now festering in those same communities. As jobs are lost, drug overdoses soar.

Opioid mortality rates surged 85 percent just five years after the closure of automotive plants in communities included in the study. While we cannot say that every opiate death in those communities was directly caused by economic crisis and poverty, there is a connection.

The researchers were thorough in their study, taking care to analyze dozens of counties across the Midwest and South. Of the 112 counties studied, 29 counties experienced plant closures between 1999 and 2016. In the counties where plants closed, opioid mortality rates increased by 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people. But in the communities where manufacturing plants stayed open, opioid mortality rates remained more or less the same.

Drug addict

Some experts are starting to call these deaths “deaths of despair.” Many believe that despair is a factor because the demographic most likely to die after an automotive plant closes happens to be working-class white men, ages 18 to 34. So of all the different residents of the counties studied, it’s the men who worked in those factories who also happen to be most likely to die from an opiate overdose after the factory closes its doors.

The new data leaves many questioning whether or not our nation’s drug problem is really just a matter of simple supply and demand. Some are beginning to wonder if there aren’t more vicious, underlying, socioeconomic conditions and circumstances which influence whether people turn to drugs or not. Can addiction happen to anyone? Absolutely. But do certain socioeconomic circumstances predispose one to using substances? Certainly.

“It’s insufficient to say that it was all about the prescribing path. Of course, supply matters–but so do the cracks in the firmament. The cracks in society is where the problem falls into (and) when you get a drug problem this big, it is both. We need to stay focused.”

Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a drug researcher at the University of California School of Medicine, commented on the effect that the new data will have on how we tackle the drug problem going forward. “It’s insufficient to say that it was all about the prescribing path. Of course, supply matters – but so do the cracks in the firmament. The cracks in society is where the problem falls into (and) when you get a drug problem this big, it is both. We need to stay focused." He continued saying: "We need to turn on policy channels, whatever they are – whether they’re fiscal channels or just creative channels. Let’s turn those knobs, get it together, and try harder.”

Clearly, several factors contribute to the drug problem.

So what’s the first step in addressing it?

The Importance of Addiction Treatment for America’s Working Class

Some would suggest that the economy of today is nothing like it once was. While we should celebrate the fact that unemployment levels are at their lowest in years, many Americans feel as though they lack security in their jobs. The “American Dream” career of yesteryear, where the man of the house could get a job at a local company and essentially rely on that job for his entire lifetime (pension at the end and all) is fast becoming a thing of the past.

The “gig” economy of today leaves many Americans with ample opportunities for work, but with little security or dependability within those opportunities. It’s very difficult to settle down and raise a family when there is no security or guarantee of ongoing work. And when families do commit to a company, and that company moves its operation to a different city, outsources to a different country, lays off workers, or transitions into a different field entirely, the sudden lack of financial security can be enough to push working-class Americans into substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

An addict is looking for a job

But here’s where the situation gets even worse. The problem with using drugs and alcohol to cope with job loss is that such substance abuse then makes it even more challenging to get a new job. Now, these families are digging themselves even further into the ground.

The loss of a job could be viewed as just a momentary setback. Remember, one could argue that there is more opportunity for work today than perhaps ever before. One could approach losing a job as an opportunity to go out and get an even better job. Time to “blow the dust off the old resume,” line up interviews and get back out into the workforce. But if one allows a substance abuse habit to set in over the stress that one won’t be able to find a new job, that makes it even less likely that the person will be able to find new work! It is a vicious, dwindling spiral of the very worst kind.

That is why it is so crucial for those of us who know someone who is struggling with a drug habit to assist them in getting clean. We have to help our family members and loved ones find and enter long-term residential drug treatment as soon as possible.

We have to be quick about this. Addiction does not go away on its own. And the longer one struggles with it; the more likely one is to experience an overdose. We have to ensure that treatment is made available for our loved ones, and we have to make sure that they get treatment. No job, no matter how wonderful and secure it is, will help an individual once he or she starts using drugs and alcohol. We have to address the addiction first, and then help them find new work and new financial security.

If you have a son or daughter, grandchild, or spouse who is struggling with addiction, make sure they get help today.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.