ATLANTA — Are alcohol and drugs to blame for a quarter of the labor force decline? The government suggests yes.
A new study about addiction reveals another health hazard that presented itself during the COVID-19 pandemic: addiction.
“Every single week during COVID, the number of calls to Georgia Cares hotline have gone up. They continue to go up,” said Jeff Breedlove with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.
Breedlove echoed what the federal government says is true about the “Great Resignation.”
“When rooms shut down, people didn’t know where to go, stress increased,” Breedlove said.
A significant part of workforce decline may be driven by substance abuse.
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A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta -- and co-authors the University of Pennsylvania and Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona -- suggested substance abuse accounted for between 9% and 26% of the decline in labor force between February 2020 and June 2021.
It wasn’t difficult to find people who told us their drinking habits changed.
“When the pandemic started, I started making a cocktail every day,” one woman told Channel 2 Action News.
A study from American Addiction Centers reflects what the feds found.
After surveying 3,000 people in March 2020, one in three Americans admitted to drinking during working hours at home.
About 33% of Georgians who were surveyed admitted to drinking while on the clock.
Hawaii had the most offenders at 67%. Arkansas the fewest at 8%.
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“It’s a little easier to drink when you’re behind the computer,” said Corey Gray, who lives in Atlanta. “It was a workout in the morning, get a nice sweat going, come home, drink some bourbon right on the rocks.”
The feds have previously cited a number of reasons for workforce decline during the pandemic.
While specific data on the number of people who turned to drugs during the pandemic is not available, researchers used data on deaths attributed to drugs to estimate the increase in substance abuse.
“More Americans under the age of 50 have died from fentanyl this year than everything else combined,” Breedlove said.
The study found more than 25,000 deaths due to drugs between April 2020 and June 2021 -- an estimated increase of 5 million more substance abusers during that time.
“We have not yet seen the worst of mental health, substance abuse, medical issues because of COVID. We haven’t seen the worst of it yet, the worst is yet to come,” Breedlove said.
There is some silver lining here.
Breedlove said local companies have started to recognize those who are in long term recovery as potential employees.
Business leaders are working with the agency to identify candidates and successfully re-enter them into the workforce.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse has a free support line: 1-844-326-5400.
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