An unexpected and concerning ‘benefit’ to working remotely

Twenty-eight percent of employees surveyed for “Self-Medication Nation” indicate a perk of working from home is the opportunity to use alcohol and other recreational drugs during the workday.

By Kacey Larsen      
“Self-Medication Nation” survey results

While there has been a blurring of lines between work and home lives for many employees who shifted to a remote or hybrid work environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey’s results raise a warning flag. The “Self-Medication Nation: The Numbing of America” survey, conducted by Ipsos Research with over 1,000 participants for Arizona-based mental health treatment center Sierra Tucson, found that 21% of U.S. employees admit they’ve used alcohol, marijuana or other recreational drugs during work hours while employed remotely this past year. A fifth of employees surveyed, 21%, also report witnessing a colleague under the influence while participating in a virtual meeting during the workday, while 22% of respondents indicate they themselves have participated in a virtual work call under the influence of marijuana, alcohol or other recreational drugs.

Results from “Self-Medication Nation” show a majority of respondents use alcohol and marijuana for enjoyment, but 41% reported using marijuana to cope with stress, 38% said to cope with anxiety, 20% said to deal with loneliness and 31% said to deal with depression. Also noteworthy, 38% of those who reported consuming alcohol noted an increase in their consumption during the pandemic, with 85% of that sub-set increasing by 1 to 3 drinks per day. Marijuana usage also increased (52%) among the 21% of respondents who reported use. Comparatively, the number of respondents using recreational drugs during the pandemic was small (6.5%), but 66% of that sub-set report their drug use doubled in that period.

The “Self-Medication Nation” survey results show a preference for working from home versus a company office because 14% report drinking alcohol to relax and 11% saying they use marijuana or other drugs during the workday to relax. Of respondents who use, 73% state that if their employer insists on a return to office, they will miss having the opportunity to use marijuana, alcohol and other recreational drugs during the workday. With substance use seemingly being an added benefit to working remotely according to survey respondents, this raises a question that “Self-Medication Nation” voices: “Once the COVID-19 pandemic eases, will we see a rise in the substance-use epidemic?” Many survey respondents indicate high levels of stress, anxiety and burnout due to the pandemic, yet only 13% of those surveyed sought out therapy for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. This raises an alarming question: “Instead of coping with pandemic-sparked mental health issues through therapy, might Americans be turning to drugs and alcohol instead?”

“We at Sierra Tucson and in the addiction community are seeing these patients already showing up for treatment. We have had individuals who have been referred by their employee assistance program or their workplace for treatment, because these issues around addiction and substance use are interfering with their work life,” says Jasleen Chhatwal, M.D., chief medical officer, Sierra Tucson and “Self-Medication Nation” co-author. “We are concerned about these individuals returning to work and seeing how work from home policies have impacted the workplace in our communities. It becomes very important for employers and HR representatives to become acutely aware of mental health as well as addiction impacts of the pandemic and start to support their employees so that we can have healthy and productive communities.”

Workplace Wellness Insider will be diving further into the “Self-Medication Nation” survey results and providing tips from Dr. Chhatwal in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for the series!