The problems of addiction and substance abuse never go away. When you throw in all of the changes people faced during forced changes to their daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is no surprise that there appears to be an increase in substance abuse-related deaths the last few years.
Full and partial lockdowns, restrictions on outside recreation, restaurants and clubs, full work-from-home policies, reduced workforces and loss of jobs, and restricted travel all really do the same thing. These measures forced people into their homes and forced them to “find things to do.” This, combined with the other outside stresses of the pandemic, have made large number of people find things to do including increased use of drugs and alcohol.
A recent detailed study and paper by Jeremy Greenwood, Nezih Guner and Karen Kopecky showed quite a bit of interesting substance abuse-related death data. The study was actually focused on Substance Abuse During the Pandemic: Implications For Labor Force Participation but compiled a large amount of data on deaths as part of its background on causes of reduced prime-age workforce participation.
Here’s the death data.
Quantitative data shows that psychostimulant-related and narcotic-related deaths are on a sharp upward trend, with alcohol-related deaths on a slight bump up. We think part of the reason for the lower bump in alcohol-related deaths is due to people staying in and staying home – other studies show that alcohol-related offenses like DUI’s and alcohol-related traffic fatalities during the lockdown period are obviously lower than “normal.”
Besides the numbers data on increased deaths, there are other useful points and conclusions that can be pulled from the study. These are great qualitative points that back up what just feels kind of obvious when you think about the lockdowns and the pandemic.
- Increased anxiety, isolation, joblessness, and other factors caused by the pandemic could have led to an increased desire to abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
- For alcohol, the shift to drinking at home from drinking in restaurants and bars reduced the cost per ounce, which may have led to higher quantities consumed.
- During the pandemic, there were also fewer options for ways to spend both time and money. Moreover, like many leisure goods, abusing drugs and alcohol requires time. This is especially true when accounting for both the time spent abusing the substances and the time spent recovering from their usage.
- Given this complementarity between time and drugs and alcohol, declines in the value of time may have effectively led to decreases in the total cost of substance abuse and, consequently, an increase in the number of abusers.
- Once started, drug and alcohol abuse is difficult to stop for many people. This fact should show in future data, where rates do not drop off as the pandemic “ends.”