Are Opioid Addiction & Work Addiction Inherently Connected?

The opioid addiction epidemic has been a growing public health issue for the last three decades. Although there are many causes for opioid addiction, including the overprescription of opioids for pain management and a lack of consensus regarding their appropriate use, one factor that drives people all around the world to misuse opioids is work-related stress. This reason is even more common among people who suffer from work addiction, or the inability to stop working.

Work addiction is a real mental health condition that stems from a compulsive need to succeed in the workplace, and it can be caused by the need to escape emotional stress. Like any other type of addiction, working non-stop is unsustainable, causing burnout and a variety of physical and mental health issues that can lead individuals to seek relief through the use of opioids. There is a connection between opioid addiction and work addiction. Let’s explore the issue:

Pressures of Work Addiction

Work addiction can be brought on for a variety of reasons, including overwhelming pressure from company management, a high-stress work environment, an anxiety-driven need to succeed, and excessive financial stress. It can be difficult to tell when someone is suffering from work addiction, as it can often appear that the person is simply highly ambitious and committed to their job. However, there are signs to look for if you suspect someone in your life is addicted to their work. This includes ignoring or avoiding their personal life, having an intense fear of failure, losing sleep to work on projects, or being defensive about the amount they’re working.

There are many other symptoms of work addiction that may simply look like unhealthy work habits; however, work addiction can be as unhealthy and disruptive as other types of addiction, and it should be treated as such. Oftentimes, work addiction can lead individuals to abuse substances to ward off the stress and exhaustion that comes with working excessive hours. When someone is addicted to work, they’re often unable to distinguish that they have a problem, even when it begins affecting their life. They will often simply look for any stimulant or substance, including opioids, that will allow them to continue working.

Work addiction can form in a variety of work environments, but there are some where it is more prevalent than others. One high-stress job where workers are at very high risk of developing drug addiction is truck driving positions. Although this is a frightening industry to imagine having high rates of drug use, the long, monotonous hours that truck drivers spend on the road often lead them to seek out ways to stay awake and energized. Studies of substance abuse among truck drivers suggest that 30 percent of drivers admit to using amphetamines while driving, but only 2 percent of drivers fail the drug tests required by trucking companies.

Opioid Addiction Magnitude

Since the beginning uses of opioid medication for pain, there has been opioid addiction. In the ‘90s, pain specialists and the American Pain Society advocated for the increased use of opioids in pain management due to the lack of treatment offered at the time for chronic pain. During the same span of time, pharmaceutical companies introduced opioids like oxycodone for the treatment of non-malignant pain, downplaying the drug’s addictive potential. Although unintended, the push for effective pain management made opioids more accessible, which led them to be misused by individuals prone to substance abuse, such as work addicts.

The change in perspective of pain management and the increased marketing of opioids led to a dramatic increase in prescription opioid production, with OxyContin sales increasing from $48 million to over $2.4 billion in only 16 years. Today, the highly addictive medication is widely recognized as a gateway drug, with 80 percent of new heroin users having started off using prescription opioids. These factors have led to the opioid addiction epidemic that is costing Americans close to $200 billion in healthcare costs, criminal justice procedures, legal fees, and lost workplace production and participation. Even when people who suffer from work addiction abuse opioids, the substance eventually catches up with them and interrupts their work life.

In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency after about 13,219 people died in 2016 due to heroin overdoses. This was a 533 percent increase from the number of opioid-related deaths in 2002, when 2,089 people died. To raise awareness of the high-rates of opioid addiction and opioid-related death, federal agencies are working to educate students, families, and educators about the dangers of opioid misuse and ways to prevent and overcome opioid addiction. The organizations are also supporting state and local education agency efforts to prevent and reduce opioid misuse.

How Work-Addiction Leads to Other Addictions

Opioids are not the only drug abused by those suffering from work addiction. For those who are always on the go, such as truck drivers or stressed business workers, stimulants like amphetamines are a popular drug to increase their energy and ability to stay awake. However, when these individuals become addicted to amphetamines and are unable to find clean sources of the drug, they often turn to methamphetamine to feed their addiction. The use of this drug is highly dangerous and can be fatal. It can cause rapid, irregular heartbeats that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, increased body temperatures resulting in fatal heart responses or kidney failure, and seizures which can lead to fatal brain damage.

For teenagers and young adults who may be vulnerable to work addiction, school and sport-related stress can push students to exhibit symptoms of work addiction. Under large amounts of stress, intense pressure to succeed in sports can lead students to abuse steroids to reduce their risk of failure. However, once young athletes begin using anabolic steroids, the drugs can cause a powerful psychological dependence — and withdrawal from the drug can cause students to experience severe depression for months. The physical and mental toll of drug abuse is difficult to overcome, which is why it’s so important for teenagers and adults to keep their mental health in check and regularly engage in stress-relieving practices.

Some of the behavioral symptoms that people addicted to work and opioids experience are the same: a compulsive need to satisfy their addiction despite the consequences, serious discomfort when they are unable to satisfy these compulsions, a willingness to sacrifice personal relationships to satisfy their addiction, and a constant pursuit of their vice to feel the effects of overworking or abusing a substance. Without making an effort to moderate stress levels, reanalyze priorities, and take care of their mental health, a person can easily fall into work addiction and/or opioid addiction as they struggle to satisfy these compulsions.

No matter what form of addiction an individual is suffering from, the consequences of addiction are always severe and can lead individuals down a deeper path of addiction. Although work addiction can be mistaken as a serious commitment to work, the exhaustion and stress that comes with it can lead individuals to abuse opioids, as these are often the most readily available substance. Addiction is a huge public health issue, and it’s important to recognize the symptoms of work and opioid addiction early on to prevent it from getting worse.

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