Recession and Substance Abuse: Any Link for IT Pros?

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Is the ongoing economic recession, characterized as it is by seemingly endless rounds of layoffs that have sapped the vibrancy of countless IT workplaces, creating an environment that's adding alcohol and drug abuse to the list of problems those workplaces are facing?


The last time I wrote about substance abuse in the IT work force, the world was a much different place. It was the early spring of 2008, and there was still a lot of uncertainty about whether the U.S. economy had entered a recession. I found at the time what appeared to be just as much uncertainty about how rampant alcohol and drug abuse was among IT workers.


I heard from plenty of readers, like this one, who told stories of a culture of substance abuse in IT:


"After spending almost 30 years as a professional software engineer ... I have seen just about every and anything 'abused.' Alcohol, pot, pills ... have all been a part of every hard-working, hard-partying, high-performance group I've seen."


But I heard from just as many who insisted it's a non-issue. This reader's input was typical of what came from that crowd:


"As someone whose income depends upon my programming skills, the last thing I want to do is ingest something that could mess up my brain. I suspect that most tech workers are as aware as I am of the need to keep their brains in top notch working order. We avoid substance abuse because we know it has a high potential to destroy our ability to do the thing we love."


Fast-forward to the present, and if there's one thing we're certain about, it's the recession. In fact, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the current recession began in December 2007, meaning we've officially reached the two-year mark. So what about the substance abuse question? Is there any more certainty there?


In raising the question, I can't help but think about the tens of thousands of layoffs suffered by the tech sector since early 2008. And I'm reminded of an article written earlier this year by Dr. Amy Preiss of the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies. Preiss wrote this about the coping mechanisms of layoff survivors:


"Workers who survived layoffs make up a group of individuals who face what organizational psychologists call workplace survivor syndrome.' These employees undergo a range of emotions including feeling relieved they have their jobs, sadness for their coworkers who were let go and anger for having more work to do. A 2003 Institute of Behavioral Science survey indicated that alcohol and drug consumption increased among individuals who survived workplace layoffs."


So you tell me. Has that "consumption" increased to the point of abuse? How is the tech sector faring as we enter Year Three of the recession?