A new study has revealed that the number of working age people with drug and alcohol use issues has risen by nearly 25 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The worrying news does come with a caveat for us Aussies. The study was completed in the US, not Australia, and only involves Americans. It still does provide for interesting reading and it does raise the question of the impact of the pandemic on drug and alcohol use in Australia.
The US study, by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, found that the number of Americans of working age (25 to 54 years old) with substance use disorders had risen to 27 million people since the pandemic began. That’s an estimated 23 per cent rise.
Incredibly, as highlighted in an article in the Hindustan Times, that’s around one in six people who were employed around the time of the study.
Drugs and alcohol – impact to workplaces
The other interesting aspect of the study results is the impact on the workforce. According to one of the study authors, Karen Kopecky, the rise in the number of people with substance use disorders has caused a 9% to 26% drop in labour force participation.
Other studies have provided some additional interesting insights into the effects of drug and alcohol use in the workplace in the US:
- In a November 2021 survey, around 20% of US workers admitted to using recreational drugs while working remotely and to being under the influence during virtual meetings.
- In an August 2022 study, one in five participants said they believe that substance use has affected their work performance.
- In the Hindustan Times article, it was also highlighted that addiction specialists who treat mostly employed patients says their treatment programs have become over-enrolled since the pandemic.
What’s the impact in Australia?
These studies and this news comes from the US, so what’s happened in Australia?
While we’re not aware of a specific study that has taken an in-depth look at the impact of the pandemic on drug and alcohol misuse, there is some anecdotal evidence that suggests that there have been changes.
- During the pandemic’s early months, from May 2020 to February 2021, spending on alcohol was higher when compared with the equivalent period in the previous years.
- The ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey found that around 14.4 per cent of people reported an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 9.5 per cent reported a decrease.
- There have been some studies that have also shown an increase in illicit drug use, however, this does depend on the specific drug, due to the impact to the drug market during the pandemic.
What’s it mean for Australian workplaces?
Really, it’s situation normal. Whether drug and alcohol misuse has risen or not, most Australian workplaces should have a drug and alcohol policy in place. And if your workplace is safety critical, you should be educating your workforce, communicating to them about your policy and conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing.
What impact has the pandemic had on drug and alcohol misuse? Credit Myznik Ego https://unsplash.com/photos/zKZvBJ3vTTI