Does Job Burnout Lead to Substance Abuse?

In 2021, record numbers of people in the United State voluntarily left their jobs. Many people referred to this phenomenon as “The Great Resignation.” In 2022, increased attention on not overexerting yourself at work spawned the buzzword “quiet quitting.”

Neither of these work-related events can be attributed to any one cause. However, many people have identified job burnout as a contributing factor. And the effects of job burnout aren’t limited to workplace performance. There can also be a relationship between burnout and substance abuse.

What is Job Burnout? 

Job burnout can be described as extreme dissatisfaction with one’s current position or career path. This results from overwork, excessive stress, and a lack of appreciation.

Job burnout is a prevalent problem in the United States. A January 2022 article on the website of the American Psychological Association (APA) reported the following about job burnout in 2021:

  • About 79% of employees said they had experienced work-related stress in the previous month.
  • Almost 60% of workers said stress had a negative impact on their job performance.
  • More than 25% of employees said they struggled with poor motivation and low energy.

The APA article noted that health care workers and teachers were among the people who were at elevated risk for burnout. But burnout is not limited to these professions. People who work in virtually any job or career field may experience burnout if certain factors are in place.

Causes of Job Burnout 

One way to look at the causes of job burnout is that it typically occurs when a person is exposed to a greater amount of stress than they are able to effectively manage. 

Here are examples of circumstances that may be causes of job burnout:

  • An employee feels pressured to work long hours without being acknowledged or appreciated.
  • A supervisor consistently criticizes a person’s perceived shortcomings without acknowledging their strengths or providing them with the support their need to improve.
  • An employee works very hard, produces quality results, but receives little to no positive feedback.
  • A person feels that the effort they put into their job is disproportionate to their compensation.
  • Managers or other supervisors have established unattainable or otherwise unrealistic expectations.
  • Employees feel that they have no control within the workplace.
  • People feel that they have lost any semblance of a healthy work-life balance.

Both the severity and duration of difficult workplace experiences can affect job burnout. A person who occasionally has to work late due for unavoidable but understandable reasons may not be likely to become burned out. But the risk of burnout may be significantly higher for someone who is continually required to put in extra hours on short notice for unacceptable reasons.

Symptoms of Job Burnout 

The symptoms of job burnout can vary from person to person. In many cases, they can be similar to some symptoms of depressive disorders. The following are potential signs and symptoms of job burnout:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Having problems concentrating or focusing
  • Finding it difficult to get up and go to work
  • Disrupted sleep patterns (which can include both insomnia and hypersomnia)
  • Diminished performance at work
  • Losing interest in non-work activities or hobbies that used to be source of great pleasure
  • Experiencing little to no job satisfaction, even when achieving outward signs of success
  • Feelings of aimlessness or lack of purpose
  • Sense of being taken advantage of
  • Anger (either directed at oneself or others)

No one loves every part of their job every day. But people who experience symptoms such as the ones listed above on a regular basis may be burned out.

Does Job Burnout Lead to Substance Abuse? 

There can definitely be an association between job burnout and substance abuse. Some people abuse substances in a misguided attempt to hide from burnout-related problems, while others turn to drug abuse to try to self-medicate the symptoms they have been experiencing.

Of course, responding to burnout with substance abuse can be an example of taking a bad problem and making it worse. The potential negative outcomes of abusing alcohol and other drugs include ruined relationships, legal problems, financial distress, physical and mental health damage, addiction, and overdose. In such cases, addiction treatment is recommended.

Burnout and Stimulants Abuse 

If a person has been experiencing burnout-related symptoms such as diminished energy, low motivation, or impaired focus, they may try to address these difficulties via stimulant abuse. They may abuse cocaine or amphetamines as a way of boosting their energy.

If they are seeking enhanced focus, they may illicitly acquire and abuse prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin. Cocaine and amphetamine abuse can be deadly, and the improper use of prescription stimulants can also cause long-term problems.

Burnout and Alcohol Abuse 

The relationship between burnout and alcohol abuse often results from a desire to momentarily escape distressing emotions or numb themselves to their emotional pain. Alcohol is a depressant, so any improvement in mood will be fleeting, and can be followed by and even more despondent emotional state. Also, continued alcohol abuse can lead to considerable harm, including cognitive deficiencies, organ damage, and an increased risk for certain cancers.

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