Discussion paper

DP17137 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. At the same time, 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. Could increased substance abuse during the pandemic be a factor contributing to the fall in labor-force participation? Estimates of the number of additional substance abusers during the pandemic presented here suggest that increased substance abuse accounts for between 9 and 26 percent of the decline in prime-age labor-force participation between February 2020 and June 2021.


Greenwood, J, N Guner and K Kopecky (2022), ‘DP17137 Substance Abuse during the Pandemic: Implications for Labor-Force Participation‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17137. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17137