Unemployment and A Stressful Work Environment Have Been Related to An Increase in The Use of Opioids Among Us Adults

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Drug abuse and opioid abuse are strongly associated in two linked studies by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health researchers. Unemployed Americans are 40% more likely to misuse opioids than those who work 35-40 hours per week.

According to UCLA professor Dr. Jian Li

Dr. Jian Li said that “With emergency visits for opioid overdoses and opioid overdose deaths on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need for government policy initiatives and the mobilization of political will,” he stated. New research shows that steady employment and supportive work settings may play a significant role in the opioid crisis’ socioeconomic determinants.

Psychiatric Research and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) are two the peer-reviewed journals in which the research has been published by international teams from UCLA, Hofstra University in New York, and universities in Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland.

One study, “Associations of work status with opioid misuse: Evidence from a nationally representative survey in the United States,” is scheduled for publication in the July issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, but is presently available online. The second was already published by the IJERPH under the title “Effort–Reward Imbalance at Work and Drug Misuse: Evidence from a National Survey in the United States.”

stressful work environment

Unemployment was revealed to be a significant risk factor for opioid usage in a nationally representative sample of 40,143 persons who participated in the annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). A UCLA Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the study’s first author, Timothy Matthews, showed that people in school or training were less likely than unemployed people to abuse drugs. Matthews’ findings were published in the journal Addiction.

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Those who were in school or vocational training had a lower risk of opioid abuse, showing a protective role for additional education and skill development in drug misuse outcomes,” Mathews added. Overall, we discovered that being unemployed was a substantial risk factor for opioid usage, whereas short or long working hours were not.”

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A UCLA Fielding School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology and a co-author of the IJERPH study, Dr. Marissa Seamans, found that a stressful work environment may be a factor in drug misuse.

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“We discovered that individuals reporting intense physical or mental effort, or both, in occupations where they encountered minimal likelihood of promotions, esteem from their bosses for the work they did, or little job stability, were those with the highest risk of drug addiction,” Seamans said. This included opioids, but also the overuse of amphetamines, cocaine, or hallucinogens. The use of cannabis was found to be uniquely associated with high levels of physical exertion, which was a slightly different finding.


Workers, employers, and government agencies should consider working together to address the opioid crisis, according to the researchers’ conclusions from both teams of researchers.

Using an effort-to-reward imbalance as a proxy for work stress, we aimed to see if it had any bearing on the prevalence of drug and opioid abuse. Securing a steady job is an important public health result that governments and businesses should consider implementing strategies to achieve.

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Dr. Liwei Chen, an associate professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, is a co-author of the study.


National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) Study were used to conduct these two separate studies. Work-related stressors and employment kinds were analyzed to see if they were associated with outcomes such as opioid and drug abuse. There were people in both the MIDUS and NSDUH samples who represented a wide range of social groups and professions.



University of California, Los Angeles, Academic Senate, Council on Research, Los Angeles Division, Grant Sponsor: This research was supported by a grant (Grant No.: J. Li FRG 20-21). The University of California, Los Angeles’ Start-Up Grant for Li as a new faculty member also helped Matthews and his team get up and running

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