Usually 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.