The economic aftermath left in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak cannot be underestimated. The Department of Labor has reported that over 40 million* Americans have lost their jobs in the space of just nine weeks since the start of the pandemic. Having to remain at home means those who have lost their jobs have may have limited support for the newfound financial strain, as well as mental distress caused by lockdown. For some, one of the ways of coping with trying circumstances during this time is to numb the pain with alcohol.
American Addiction Centers, leading provider of substance abuse treatment resources, conducted a study of 3,000 people to find out how they are dealing with the economic pressures of the pandemic, particularly when it comes to facing unemployment. Worryingly, the survey found that over 1 in 5 (21%) Hoosiers who were rendered unemployed due to lockdown, admit they have taken to drinking more than usual ever since.
Over 1 in 10 (14%) respondents admit they too would turn to alcohol if they lost their job, in order to help cope with the mental and financial stress. Worryingly, an additional 5% say they would turn to drugs to help deal with this pressure.
The impact of social distancing measures appears to have had an impact on the happiness of employees in the work place in general too. In fact, 40% of employees say they have noticed the mental health of their co-workers suffer since the start of the outbreak. Given that a large percentage of a worker’s day is spent in the company of colleagues, it is difficult to hide mental illness at work – even via a video call.
If you work in a team environment, it is likely you will also develop strong personal bonds and friendships with your fellow colleagues after working together for some time. In fact, 39% of employees admit they miss having after-work drinks with colleagues.
The bond between co-workers is highlighted by the fact that 67% of respondents say they would offer to help a former colleague financially if they had lost their job due to the pandemic.
Moreover, 36% of people say they would report to their employers out of concern if they found out that another colleague was drinking on the job while working from home. Given that 1 in 3 employees (32%) admit to drinking alcohol during work hours while in lockdown, this is a realistic scenario.
An additional 69% of employees say they believe companies should have official systems in place to help staff deal with mental health struggles due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles have been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak, and the stress that comes from precarious employment situations that many are enduring can be a lot to handle,” said Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers. “Many people are turning to alcohol to cope with their newfound hardships and, in turn, are compounding their difficulties. Excess consumption of alcohol can be a slippery slope that can lead to dependence and alcohol use disorder. If you feel that your excess alcohol intake, or that of a co-worker or loved one, is becoming problematic, reach out for help.”
American Addiction Centers defines substance abuse as the excessive use of either drugs or alcohol, which results in functional and clinical impairments. It important to recognize both the physical and emotional symptoms of substance abuse, however, it must also be noted that some can also be signs of anxiety, depression or physical illness. If more than one of these symptoms is noticeable, there is likely an issue that needs to be addressed.
The following is a guide for employees on symptoms commonly associated with substance abuse:
- Bloodshot eyes and constricted or dilated pupils
- General drowsiness during the workday or falling asleep on the job
- Being late to work
- Drop in job performance and increased errors
- Mood swings and angry outbursts
- Isolation and withdrawal from the team
- Forgetfulness and impaired concentration
- Panic attacks
Frequently, if an employee notices a fellow colleague exhibiting symptoms of substance abuse, they may be reluctant to intervene for fear that the person will lose their job. However, covering up for the impaired person can be interpreted as enabling their habit, which can be even more detrimental to the issue at hand, as it allows them to continue to use the substance without being held accountable.
As a co-worker and friend to the impaired, you cannot attempt to diagnose the problem on your own. Instead, American Addiction Centers suggests taking the following steps:
- Document incidents where you notice your colleague’s symptoms, recording the time and date of each.
- Go to your supervisor.
- Consult the company’s HR department for guidance and advice on how to proceed.