Unemployment May Increase Risk of Opioid, Stimulant Misuse

Woman sitting next to body of waterAccording to a study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, people without jobs are more likely to abuse prescription opioids and stimulants.

Opioids such as oxycodone are commonly used to treat both acute and chronic pain. Stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate can treat attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). Some recreational users also take stimulants as performance-enhancing drugs.

Prescription opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels. In 2014, deaths due to prescription opioids and illicit opioids such as heroin climbed to an all-time high of 47,055.

Unemployment and Opioid Addiction

The study, led by epidemiologist Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, gathered data on 58,486 adults age 25 and older. The data, which came from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, covered 2011-2013. Researchers used four regression models to evaluate the link between employment status and prescription drug abuse.

Nonmedical use of opioids (3.5%) was more common than nonmedical use of stimulants (0.72%).

Unemployed people had a 7% chance of misusing opioids without a prescription—higher than any other group. People who had left the workforce were more likely than the unemployed to abuse prescription stimulants, with an overall 2% risk of abuse. Part-time employment also correlated with an elevated risk of abusing opioids and stimulants.

Unemployment as a Health Risk Factor

The study says medical providers should inquire about employment status, because unemployment is correlated with physical and mental health issues. This link is especially strong for young adults ages 26-34, who are more likely to use opioids and stimulants for nonmedical reasons.

People without full-time jobs may also experience more adverse consequences associated with prescription drug abuse. Unemployment often reduces community and social ties, which can lessen the harms of substance abuse.


  1. Perlmutter, A. S., Conner, S. C., Savone, M., Kim, J. H., Segura, L. E., & Martins, S. S. (2016). Is employment status in adults over 25 years old associated with non-medical prescription opioid and stimulant use? Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. doi:10.1007/s00127-016-1312-6
  2. Risk for misuse of opioids and stimulants: What does employment status have to do with it? (2016, December 6). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-12/cums-rfm120616.php

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Berle


    December 13th, 2016 at 2:40 PM

    What else is there to do when you are unemployed and there is no work anywhere in sight? I started drinking for that very reason. I lost my job of 20 years and being my age it is not the easiest thing to find another job that pays what I made so I drink to not have to think about it. Literally it has ruined me and I know that, but what more is there to do when I try and try and can’t even seem to get an interview?

  • jeff


    December 14th, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Maybe the drinking is actually interfering with the interview skills?

  • Renee


    December 15th, 2016 at 10:41 AM

    After we both lost jobs in 08, the tendency was there to drink a little too much.
    What more can you do when you know that bills are gonna go unpaid until you can find a way to earn a little cash?
    We weren’t without work for very long, but yes, I have been there and the temptation is very real to want to do anything that you can to wipe away all of those feelings that you are having.

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