Addiction, Education and Employment

addiction, education and employmentUsually when addiction, education and employment are discussed together it’s from the perspective of how poverty, unemployment and illiteracy drive people to misuse alcohol and other drugs. Some even imply, or make the claim outright, that misery and other environmental negatives experienced in poverty stricken areas cause addiction. While it’s likely that those growing up in areas of poverty, and who have problems in school, misuse drugs at a high rate, there’s no scientific evidence that poverty, illiteracy and dire living situations cause addiction. If more kids in areas of poverty are using drugs, around 10 percent of these kids will become addicted, but correlation and causation are not the same. I will write a blog post about this soon – however, the angle I want to approach in this blog post is how addiction affects the employment prospects of everyone who becomes addicted to alcohol or any other drug.

In the new economy, rapid changes in technology require specialized education along with problem solving and analytical skills. Rapid changes and uncertainty also place importance on the ability to deal with stress and anxiety. When blue collar workers worked in factories and had repetitive jobs that didn’t place complex demands on the worker, a person with an addiction problem could hide from detection as long as they were still functioning at all. Co-workers and supervisors would often cover for the person with a alcohol/drug problem. I witnessed this working at a GM factory when I was 19 years old. Things have changed. That factory is now closed.

One aspect of the changes in the workplace is that it’s knowledge-based. Most kids don’t have the luxury of barely getting by in school, then graduating and going to work at a local factory. Almost every job in the new economy requires technological knowledge, social skills and the ability to analyze and to solve problems. When a young person starts using alcohol, pot, cocaine or opioids, it puts them at risk. If the young person is one of the 10% or so who’ll become addicted, not only are they at risk physically, they’re at risk employment-wise. Addiction negatively affects the problem solving and analytical skills required in the new economy – addiction also affects a person’s ability to complete college. Addiction affects motivation and the ability to retain knowledge, so even if a young person who’s addicted makes her way through college, she might take the easiest route and not go further to a higher education. Getting an easy, generalized degree just to have a degree, to please others, basically, is not useful in an economy that requires specialized knowledge and skills.

The problem is not that the young addict is unable to become a good little robot in the new technological economy, it’s that the young person usually drifts and doesn’t gain the skills and knowledge in their areas of interest – they give up on their goals. There are many interesting, challenging, enriching and helpful endeavors in the world of work, but the young person who’s struggling with an addiction will not likely complete the necessary education and acquisition of skills.

The older worker who has a drug problem is also at high risk. In the new economy, gaining knowledge and new skills is constant. The same things hold true for the 40 year old worker who finds they have to adjust midstream to acquire new knowledge and skills. It’s difficult to make the changes and deal with the stress when you’re addicted to alcohol or some other drug. You don’t have to be a genius to find your calling in the new economy, but it will likely take all the intelligence you have. I talk to people in recovery all the time, and I hear over and over that recovery brought back the desire to further their education and accomplish goals that slipped away in addiction.

Employment and Addiction Recovery

employment concerns in recovery

Addiction and employment

When considering consequences of addiction, the realities of employment and career management are serious considerations. Employment and career concerns are important to the addict in recovery regardless of age or past accomplishments. Successful addiction recovery requires a person to deal with all parts of his/her life. It’s important to make a living and fulfill our human need to contribute and create, whether it’s a formal job or it’s raising a family or pursuing some artistic goal.

When a person starts drinking alcohol or using some other drug heavily at an early age, and if that person is in the beginning stage of addiction, the constant impairment of judgment might lead the addict to disregard the importance of clear judgment, skill development, education, employment and career planning. Mind altering substances, including alcohol, can lead someone to believe that they have power over reality, that they’re smart and capable and impervious to consequences. When an addict is faced with consequences the addict usually blames some person, place or thing for the consequence, thus protecting the fantasy world the addict slowly constructs.

Our problem in the 21st century is that good and steady employment that leads to a successful career is hard to find, even if a person keeps a clear head and goes to college. If a person’s operating with impaired judgment under the mistaken belief they’ll figure it out as they go along, then they’re probably not going to fare well in the job market. If a young person with a drinking or drug using problem goes to college, they’ll likely have difficulty succeeding and gaining the knowledge and skills necessary for a job market that demands specialized knowledge, complex skill sets and sharp thinking. Even manufacturing jobs are no longer done by rote. Almost all good jobs require knowledge and skills and a clear mind.

Even an older person whose addiction progressed slowly and who’s been getting along for years at a job that’s no longer demanding has to make employment and career planning a major concern, because employers aren’t hiring on for life like the old auto-maker jobs, or IBM career jobs, or traditional jobs with the railroad companies. Unions are much weaker, and technology’s creating constant change in the job market. Older workers find themselves looking for work in a job market they no longer understand. If the older worker is in recovery from addiction, it makes it even more imperative to manage recovery and remain abstinent, if the person wants to find new work and start a new career if and when the situation arises.

The point is that life and work are becoming evermore demanding, and addiction muddles a person’s mind and eventually kills motivation and drive. It’s a sad and demeaning existence to become dependent on the goodwill of others, or to find yourself broke and jobless with limited options. When a person gets into recovery, they might find themselves in this situation and wonder why they should even try. The answer is that if they don’t try their situation can get much worse, and the reality is that people can start over, learn new skills and gain new knowledge — new days are possible, recovery can happen. But it’s not likely to happen if the addict returns to alcohol or their drug of choice.

Alcohol, drugs and motivation

technological demands

Addiction and ability to learn

I chose motivation in the title because motivation is usually affected by alcohol and other drug dependence — however, I’m writing here about how drug abuse and dependence affects a person’s ability to learn and retain knowledge and how it all relates to developing and maintaining a good livelihood. This is aimed primarily at young people, but it applies to everyone with an alcohol or other drug problem. It’s never too late to change, and if alcohol or some other drug holds a person back or has prevented them from ever achieving their goals over a scan of decades, then now is the time to act — time might be running out — the world is quickly changing and it takes all the intelligence we can muster.

This is definitely not a time to dumb down with alcohol or pot or get lost in a fantasy world of any types of mood-altering drugs – not if a person wants to meet the technological challenges of the new workforce. Keep in mind that moderate drinking, one or two drinks a day, doesn’t have the same negative impact — I’m writing about drinking and drug use that’s beyond moderate. I’m not calling for prohibition, just a realistic look at how an alcohol or other drug problem can negatively impact a person’s ability to make a decent living in an advanced technological society.

Most therapists are trained to help clients with their emotional and mental difficulties. In addiction treatment, when performing the assessments, there’s a category for employment, but it’s not often highlighted in treatment unless the person was sent by the employer and their job is in jeopardy. Most clients are worried about keeping the job they have or finding a new one, but I’m not sure if enough attention is paid to alcohol and drug use and 21st century technological advancements as they relate to stable, good-paying employment.

There are more and more demands on young people entering the workforce related to specialized knowledge, especially specialized technological knowledge. How does alcohol use affect memory, ability to lean and motivation? How does marijuana affect the ability to focus, to remember and retain knowledge? How do opiates stop young people in their tracks before they gain the knowledge and skills they need to make it in a highly technological workforce?

Again, it’s not just a concern for young people, because, now, workers in their 40s and 50s have to gain new knowledge and skills to make it in today’s workforce. If these workers in their 40s or 50s are dependent on alcohol, or they’re still smoking pot or using cocaine, how will they fair in this demanding technological transition? I couldn’t find any studies specifically dealing with this problem, but it’s well known how different drugs like alcohol, marijuana and opiates negatively impact motivation, learning and memory.

When I was 19 years old working on the assembly line at GM, there were older workers all around me working by rote who drank on the job, but the job was not that demanding. Those types of jobs are disappearing. 21st century jobs will demand a clear head and the ability to retain and handle lots of information. Alcohol and other drugs work against the demands placed on workers in today’s workforce. Even the executives’ two martini lunches are a thing of the past. Many workers dependent on brain altering drugs will likely be left in the dust as technological changes increase each year. This has to be a treatment concern — one more reason to deal with an alcohol or other drug problem before it’s too late. This is not a scare tactic — it’s reality.