Do drug and alcohol addiction rates increase in economic downturns?

12/12/20: Addiction Recovery
Economic downturns can take a toll on a person’s mental and emotional health. Due to stress, countless people also experience sudden problems related to their physical health such as weight loss, weight gain, and premature aging. Alcohol is probably one of the two most easily accessible legal substances. (The other one being cigarettes). That possibly explains the increase in alcohol-fueled deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades. Every 1 in 5 overdose deaths is caused due to excessive drinking. But the stats get overlooked by the current opioid crisis facing the country. And alcohol isn’t the only villain here. Half a million people die of drug abuse in the world. Among these, 70% are caused by opioid abuse while 30% involve drug overdose. Aaron White, a lead researcher and neuroscientist with the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, explains that despair is the major reason for these deaths. He said, “loss of hope, loss of employment and opportunities for employment, increase in stress” together lead to substance abuse and alcohol abuse, in general. So, it’s safe to say that when the economy struggles, the population experiences a spike in alcohol consumption, drug use, and smoking. In such cases, turning to alcohol and drugs seems like a perfect opportunity to escape from reality. Since this isn’t the first economic crisis facing the world, let’s take a historical look at how a failing economy can lead to an increase in drug and alcohol addiction rates.

Poor economy leads to higher consumption of alcohol

A new study focused on the Czech Republic confirmed that economic downturns result in an increase in alcohol consumption. Researcher Jakub Čihák, from the University of Economics in Prague, concluded that the relationship between the economy and alcohol consumption is counter-cyclical. That means, the demand for alcohol increases when the economy is doing poorly and decreases when it’s advancing. This study both indicates that people are perhaps drinking to cope with the financial stress as well as solidifies White’s reasoning for alcohol abuse.

Rise in the reported cases of withdrawal emergencies 

This year, specifically, saw a rise in the number of suicides committed by addicts. Many countries imposed an immediate nationwide lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading, which included a complete shutdown of all non-essential services. India, being one of the early imposers, reported seven cases of suicide caused due to withdrawal symptoms. The lack of alcohol forced people to take fatal measures to curb their urges, including consuming sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and shaving lotion among many more. Not only India but even the state of Arizona is dealing with a sudden spike in suicide cases. Isolating has caused an escalation in addictive behaviors and episodes of self-destruction have sprung. Uncontrollable anxiety, fueled by a poor economy, could be yet another reason for these actions. When people are overcome with thoughts such as “what if I’m never able to drink again” or “how can I afford alcohol without a job,” people turn to intoxicants to cope with the growing mental stress.

Increase in online search for help with addictive behaviors post COVID-19

Between 1st November 2019 and 27th May 2020, people searched for information related to help with various forms of addiction. Terms like “addiction,” “opioid,” “deaddiction,” “Substance use disorders,” “Behavioral addiction” were used to seek help at home. Researchers believe this could be due to the unexpected nature of the economic crisis. People belonging to low-income groups who can’t afford medical attention, or those who feared losing their jobs, or the ones who already lost them might have taken “refuge in addiction substances.” Since distress can induce urges and cravings, it’s not a surprise that addicts found it so difficult to deal with addictive behaviors post-COVID-19.

Men may be at a higher risk of falling prey to substance use

Young men, who have been unemployed for longer, have more chances of turning into addicts. While some studies suggest it’s the white men who give in to substance abuse, others point towards men belonging to ethnic minorities, especially the non-black, unmarried men under 30 to be the ones who have higher chances of binging. Especially those men who have been unemployed for <1 year. Although this study was carried out after the economic crisis of 2008, it conforms with the existing studies carried out during the previous crises.

Not all drugs experience a spike in demand…

It’s no surprise that the demand for cheaper and more readily available substances increases during recessions. Unemployment can increase psychological distress, which can lead to drug use. So, alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, and amphetamine all experience a spike in demand. But not all drugs experience the rise. Expensive drugs like cocaine and heroin see a decrease in demand and overall use because people don’t have the purchasing power to afford them anymore.

Why people turn to drugs during economic recessions

Economic downturns call for a whirlwind of problems. Right from maintaining a stable source of income to making ends meet, the stress gets to countless individuals. A survey conducted on addicts attending addiction treatment reported that 58.3% of people experienced an increase in their drug use during the recession. And the 46.3% and 39.4% of respondents that didn’t opt for illegal drugs compensated their urges by smoking or drinking alcohol, respectively. The research concluded that people used substances during economic downturns to cope with “more stress at work and seeking comfort in response to the loss of a stable source of income, social status, and/or family.” While unemployment is one reason for the rise in drug and alcohol addiction rates, job insecurity is another side of the coin. Addiction specialist, Paul Leslie Hokemeyer, Ph.D., who works at the Caron Treatment Center in New York City, explains drug use differently. "Even if you have a job, you may be concerned about losing it, or maybe you are worried about other family members who are at risk of losing a job,” says Paul. In both cases, turning to addictive substances during recessions isn’t unprecedented. And when there’s a partial or complete shutdown of charitable options, people can’t turn to NGOs for support because they cease to receive funds during economic downturns. That being said, not all hope is lost. There are plenty of ways to fund your addiction treatment even during recessions. If you’re in immediate need of assistance, speak to our support team to learn your financing options to take the first step towards getting clean.

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