Substance Abuse during the Pandemic: Implications for Labor-Force Participation


The labor-force participation rates of prime-age U.S. workers dropped in March 2020—the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—and have still not fully recovered. Could increased substance abuse during the pandemic be an important contributing factor? Substance-abuse deaths were elevated during the pandemic relative to trend indicating an increase in the number of substance abusers, and abusers of opioids and crystal methamphetamine have lower labor-force participation rates than non-abusers. A range of estimates of the number of additional substance abusers during the pandemic indicate that increased substance abuse can account for 9 to 30 percent of the decline in prime-age labor force participation between February 2020 and June 2021.