• Article

Unemployment and substance outcomes in the United States 2002-2010

Background: The economic shock of 2008-2009 provided an opportunity to study the robustness of observed statistical associations between unemployment and problematic substance use.

Methods: Data from 405,000 non-institutionalized adult participants in the 2002 to 2010 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health were used to compare substance outcomes among unemployed and employed persons. Association of unemployment with substance outcomes was examined for the years 2002-2004, 2005-2007, 2008, and 2009-2010, corresponding to periods prior to and after the economic downturn of 2008. Multivariate logistic regression models adjusted forage, sex, race/ethnicity, education, urban/rural residence, current DSM-IV Major Depression, and local county unemployment rates.

Results: Higher rates of past month tobacco and illicit drug use, heavy alcohol use, and past-year drug or alcohol abuse/dependence were found among the unemployed. Markedly increased unemployment in 2009-2010 did not moderate the association between substance outcomes and employment. This association was not confounded by sex, age group, or race/ethnicity for tobacco and illicit drugs, although it varied for alcohol outcomes among 18-25 year-olds. Results based on retrospective data regarding marijuana use in the period prior to unemployment suggest its use was associated with future job loss.

Conclusions: Employment status was strongly and robustly associated with problematic use of substances. Prevention and treatment interventions are warranted for a group whose employment and resulting insurance status may impair access to much needed health care. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.


Compton, W. M., Gfroerer, J., Conway, K. P., & Finger, M. S. (2014). Unemployment and substance outcomes in the United States 2002-2010. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 142, 350-353. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.06.012