Is Stable Employment and a Supportive Work Environment Related to the Opioid Crisis?

What’s New in Psychology?

Is Stable Employment and a Supportive Work Environment Related to the Opioid Crisis?  

Jim Windell

            No matter what your job, working is vital for maintaining good health and a positive attitude. To put it another way, generally our physical and mental health improves when we have a job and go to work every day. For most of us, our job shapes who we are as a person and provides us our identity. Beyond that, though, your job gives you purpose and a sense of worth.

            Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he wrote: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” If your job helps you to live well, you may well conclude you are happy.

            But what if you are unemployed or have an unstable job – or worse, you experience considerable stress at work?

            One answer is that lacking a job or a satisfactory work environment could lead to drug use.

            That was the conclusion of two recent studies that come from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health researchers. Two separate, but linked, studies have found strong associations between drug misuse generally and opioid misuse specifically among unemployed Americans.

            The first study, to be published soon in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found significant associations of unemployment with opioid misuse in a large and nationally representative sample of 40,143 adults, using data from the annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the U.S. This research found that along with employment, individuals who were in school or pursuing training also were less likely to misuse drugs than those who were unemployed.

           According to Timothy Matthews, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and first author of the study, “One critical result is that participants who were in school or involved in vocational training had lower odds of opioid misuse, demonstrating a protective role of further education and skill development in drug misuse outcomes.” Overall, Matthews added, “we found unemployment was significantly associated with opioid misuse; interestingly, short or long working hours were not.”

           In the second study, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that a stressful work environment may act as a determinant of drug misuse.

           “We found that those reporting hard physical or mental effort, or both, in jobs where they experienced little chance of promotions, esteem from their employers for the work they did, or little job security, were those at highest risk of drug misuse,” said Dr. Marissa Seamans, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology and a co-author. She went on to say that drug misuse included opioids, but also misuse of amphetamines, cocaine, or hallucinogens. “One slightly different finding was for cannabis misuse,” she pointed out. “That was uniquely related to high physical effort.”

           The findings of both teams suggest a need for labor issues and work-related stress to be considered a significant part of the opioid crisis in the U.S. The researchers pointed out that employers, workers, and the government needs to consider joint responses.

           While the objective in the two studies was to assess the contribution of work stress to drug and opioid misuse outcomes, Dr. Liwei Chen, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology and a co-author, emphasized that, “Government and employers may want to consider policies targeting on stable employment as a key public health outcome.”

           To read the original articles, find them with these references:

Matthews, T. A., Sembajwe, G., von Känel, R., & Li, J. (2022). Associations of employment status with opioid misuse: Evidence from a nationally representative survey in the U.S. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 151, 30–33.

Li, J., Matthews, T. A., Chen, L., Seamans, M., Leineweber, C., & Siegrist, J. (2021). Effort-Reward Imbalance at Work and Drug Misuse: Evidence from a National Survey in the U.S. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(24), 13334.


Share this post:

Comments on "Is Stable Employment and a Supportive Work Environment Related to the Opioid Crisis?"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment