New study shows a disparity in coping levels and available resources for South Florida households based on income levels.
By Don Rogers Jr., CADC, CPRS and Stacey Henson, LCSW, ACSW
This year, Florida dominated the news headlines after it became one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sunshine state continues to report thousands of new cases on a daily basis, and unfortunately, many new deaths. By the end of 2020, close to one million Florida residents could become infected with the novel coronavirus.
COVID-19 is spreading fast throughout the state of Florida. At the same time, another epidemic is at play—increasing rates of drug and alcohol abuse. Roughly 80 percent of South Floridians say that the pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health. Substance abuse is emerging as a common coping mechanism in South Florida and around the country.
Income Level is Linked to Substance Abuse During COVID-19
A new study is shedding light on which South Florida demographics are the most likely to abuse drugs and alcohol during the pandemic. To conduct the research, The Recovery Village surveyed 500 South Florida residents about their mental health and substance use habits over the last month, and asked about their household income.
For the purpose of this study, high-income households make $100,000 or more per year, middle-income households make between $50,000-$99,000 per year, and low-income households make less than $49,000 per year.
The main takeaway of The Recovery Village’s survey was that income level is one of the most accurate predictors of substance abuse among South Floridians. The research also determined that every income group is struggling with different forms of substance abuse and have varying levels of mental health distress.
However, the survey found one common denominator between the three income levels studied. When asked about the motive behind their substance abuse, people in every income group said that coping with stress was the main reason why they were using drugs and alcohol.
Looking at drug use specifically, the survey found that over 16 percent of people in low-income households said they had used drugs within the last month. In comparison, 15.53 percent of middle-income households and 13.98 percent of high-income households reported drug use within the last 30 days.
The opposite was true for alcohol use. People in high-income brackets had the highest rates of alcohol use within the last month. Roughly 52.69 percent of high-income households reported using alcohol, followed by 45.96 percent of middle-income households and 40 percent of lower-income households.
Which Income Demographic Has the Highest Rate of Substance Abuse?
The Recovery Village’s research found that every income group is dealing with higher-than-average rates of drug and alcohol use due to the pandemic. But which group is struggling the most?
Generally speaking, middle-income households were the most likely to report drug use within the last 30 days. People in middle-income households were 95 percent more likely to use methamphetamines, 84 percent more likely to use benzodiazepines, and 80 percent more likely to abuse prescription opioids than high- and low-income households.
Interestingly, the motive behind substance abuse in middle-income households wasn’t just stress and mental health issues. People in middle-income households were found to have higher rates of addiction and dependence compared to other income levels.
Nearly 20 percent of middle-income survey respondents said they were physically dependent on a substance, compared to 9.68 percent of high-income households and 10.20 percent of lower-income households. Additionally, 30 percent said that substance use was part of their daily routine, which was much higher than the rates reported by high- and low-income households.
Mental Health and Addiction Treatment in South Florida
Mental health and substance use disorders are serious conditions that need to be treated by a professional. Unfortunately, the study found a major disparity in treatment access for South Florida residents based on their income level.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, 17.2 percent of South Floridians in high-income households were seeing a therapist. For low- and middle-income households, the rate was just 9.8 percent and 11.18 percent respectively.
Although all three income levels were considering therapy at similar rates (33-37 percent), low-income households were the most likely to say that therapy was not an option for them due to cost and accessibility constraints.
But according to the data, low-income households reported the highest rates of depression and loneliness, and about 67 percent of low-income respondents said they were feeling anxiety and nervousness due to the pandemic.
People in middle-income households were 26 percent more likely to experience anger and agitation than lower-income households, and 19 percent more likely than high-income households. Middle-income individuals were the most likely to say that their mental health symptoms are more severe now than they were before the pandemic started.
Regardless of income level, getting treatment for a mental health or substance use disorder is important. Today, many treatment facilities like The Recovery Village are investing in expanding treatment access so more people can get help as they cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.
Stacey Henson, LCSW, ACSW, is the Community Outreach Coordinator for The Recovery Village. Stacey received her Master of Social Work from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and did her clinical training at The Menninger Clinic. She is a licensed clinical social worker. Stacey currently serves the Florida community at Advanced Recovery Systems’ Orlando Recovery Center and Next Generation Village.
Don Rogers Jr., CADC, CPRS, is the director of community outreach at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper. He is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, and is certified in The Foundations of SBIRT, a course approved by NAADAC, NBCC, and NASW. He is also a champion of local advocacy to increase access to care. He’s worked at the Department of Public Safety to help inmates with their discharge planning and at methadone clinics to facilitate psychoeducational groups, didactical groups, and family counseling.
The Recovery Village® Drug and Alcohol Rehab delivers comprehensive treatment services for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. With locations across the country, The Recovery Village® Drug and Alcohol Rehab offers patients a full continuum of care, including medical detox, residential services and outpatient programs.