Alcohol, substance abuse rises amid pandemic

Many more people missing work because of mental health issues compared to 2019

Alcohol, substance abuse rises amid pandemic
Nearly half of full-time workers in the U.S. now report problem use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, finds a survey.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of workers in the U.S. are struggling with some level of alcohol or substance addiction.

Among these, the number of workers reporting lower productivity or missed work because of substance abuse or addiction has nearly doubled since 2019, with about one-third (36 per cent) reporting that it has affected their work more since the pandemic began.

Nearly half of full-time workers now report problem use of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, and 57 per cent of employees have lost more than 10 hours of work per week due to substance abuse, compared to 47 per cent pre-pandemic, according to a report by insurance company the Standard.

The 2020 Behavioral Health Pandemic Impact study is based on a survey of 1,425 full-time employees and measured changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic since an initial survey of 2,004 employees conducted in the fall of 2019.

“The research not only reveals an alarming rate of alcohol and other substance abuse among workers across a variety of industries and generations, but also paves the way for employers to open the conversation with employees about these issues. In this way, companies can empower workers to seek the help and support they need,” says Dan Jolivet, workplace possibilities practice consultant at the Standard.

“When an employee is living with a substance-use issue, oftentimes a job is something positive to hold onto, and one of the strongest sources of support and encouragement can come from an employer.”

Many Canadians who consume alcohol or cannabis are indulging more during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey from the Canadian Red Cross released in July 2020.

Mental health concerns

Nearly half (46 per cent) of U.S. employees say they are suffering from mental health issues compared to 39 per cent in 2019, and 11 per cent going through serious mental health illness, compared to seven per cent pre-pandemic.

More than half (55 per cent) of workers say a mental health issue has affected them more since the pandemic began, finds the Standard.

Two-thirds (65 per cent) say they have missed more than 10 hours of work per week because of it, compared to 58 per cent in 2019.

This issue is affecting gen Z (71 per cent) and millennial (59 per cent) workers more compared with gen X (36 per cent) and boomer (22 per cent) workers.

People with lower self-perceived mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to increase their use of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco, according to a Statistics Canada report released May 2020.

Seeking help

Some employees say that their employer is now doing a better job with the following compared with pre-pandemic times:

  • providing accommodation and flexibility (34 per cent)
  • improving access to mental health services and support (28 per cent)
  • creating a work culture that fosters mental health (28 per cent)

And employees are doing a better job asking for employer help (38 per cent in 2019; 45 per cent in 2020), accepting employer help (53 per cent versus 58 per cent) and knowing who to talk to for help (64 per cent versus 69 per cent), find the surveys for the Standard.

One in five (18 per cent) Canadian employers have raised the maximums for their psychological service benefits since the pandemic began, according to a survey by the Conference Board of Canada released in February.

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