Substance Dependence and Work

If I ask you to name a place you wish you were right now, work wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to come to mind. But for some people, work can be a welcome distraction from the stresses of their day-to-day lives outside the workplace.

A 2012 study from the NIH called TGI Monday?: Drug-Dependent Outpatients Report Lower Stress and More Happiness at Work than Elsewhere found that recovering heroin and cocaine users appear to be happiest at work.

As part of the study, 79 participants were asked to make multiple electronic journal entries daily over a span of 25 weeks. When all the data was in, it turned out that people reported all of the following when they were at work:

  • A 14 percent decrease in stress
  • A 30 percent increase in happiness
  • A 50 percent decrease in cocaine craving

Being around coworkers significantly increased people’s mood in the study, but being around friends and acquaintances outside of work didn’t have the same effect. One possible explanation mentioned by researchers is that the non-workplace friends and acquaintances might have been other drug users.

The research also showed that while participants with skilled jobs had higher moods and less cocaine craving overall, those with unskilled jobs actually experienced bigger gains from going to work. This fits with previous findings that workers with lower socioeconomic status in fact tend to be less stressed and happier in the workplace.

Because there was no non-drug-using control group, the authors of the 2012 study aren’t sure whether it’s just recovering drug users who are happiest at work, or whether the drug users surveyed were representative of a wider section of the population for whom work offers a break from other stressors.

But one thing that seems clear is that work can be therapeutic for some people and can be a helpful distraction for people dealing with problems like substance dependence.

Image: FreeImages.com/Mihai Eustatiu