On any given work day, Ray wakes up, brews coffee, smokes a cigarette, and then “takes a hit of pot” before sitting down to morning Zoom meetings. “Yeah, maybe my eyes are red, but no one can see that on Zoom,” says Ray, a West Coast executive, who typically continues to take a puff of marijuana hourly while on the job — all the long tail of a methamphetamine addiction that he developed during pandemic lockdowns.
If I get really tired, I can just go lay down,” says the executive, who is disclosing only his middle name for fear of damage to his career. “Now I can use in ways that I never before imagined.”
Data suggest there could be millions in the workforce like Ray.
A May 2022 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates that the number of working age Americans (25 to 54 years old) with substance use disorders has risen by 23% since pre-pandemic, to 27 million. A figure that’s about one in six of people who were employed around the time of the study. It’s caused a 9% to 26% drop in labor force participation that Karen Kopecky, one of the authors of the report, says continues today.
With people working remotely, there might be a more mixed pattern,” said Daniel Angres, medical director at Chicago’s Positive Sobriety Institute, a clinic for professionals and physicians. In industries that have safety measures like drug testing and access to therapists, like health care, he sees less misuse — defined as using in ways counter to medical guidelines while negatively impacting health and functioning.