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In this economy, are bad habits on the rise?

Psychologists have noticed an increase in drinking, smoking and other vices.

By Karen Datko Dec 8, 2009 9:36PM

We’ve read about all kinds of fascinating responses to the economy: people moving to the country (“ruralpolitans”) or hiking the Appalachian Trail full time (and we really do mean hiking).

But some people appear to be taking the economy out on themselves by drinking too much, smoking or stuffing the old pie hole with fattening foods -- all of which, we might point out, cost money.


Kiri Blakeley wrote at

Debbie Mandel, a stress management expert and author of "Addicted to Stress," says that in times of uncertainty people turn to bad habits to either numb their pain or experience an adrenaline rush. "They seek to replace the low with a high," she says. Apparently so -- Mandel reports seeing an increase in her clients' marijuana use.

Blakeley presented some statistics and observations from professionals, plus anecdotes about how people are responding to the added stress in their lives. They include:

  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of smoking last year was just under 21% of U.S. adults, up from 19.8% the previous year. It was the first increase since 1994. Some officials cite reduced funding for smoking-cessation efforts. Blakeley blames the toll of uncertain employment or overwork. That makes sense.
  • Shoplifting is up 6% in the last year, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer Study. 
  • Calls to the national suicide hotline increased 36% last year.
  • Sleeping disorders are more common. Blakeley reported about her own life:
When my own job status recently went from "employed" to "it's complicated," I found myself napping at 4 p.m., up at 6 p.m., back to sleep by 11 p.m., and then wide awake between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Other evidence suggests our vices aren't getting the best of us, but that we're spending less on them.

  • More people may be smoking, but a Nielsen Co. survey found that 9% of smokers have cut back. We also suspect many are smoking the “bargain” brands or rolling their own.
  • According to a Gallup poll in June, Americans’ drinking habits remained unchanged. “The average number of drinks consumed per drinker in the past week is 4.8. That is up slightly from 2008, but is similar to the figures for several years prior to that,” Gallup said, adding that beer was still the most popular alcoholic beverage. It’s also apparent that people are buying the cheaper stuff.

There is a very disturbing trend. An Associated Press story says the number of women who drink excessively -- and who are being arrested for drunken driving -- has been steadily rising for some time. That story quotes another psychologist who has noticed an increase of drinking, smoking, overeating and drug use during these bad economic times.


A survey back in the spring suggested that women -- who are becoming the primary breadwinner in more homes -- are feeling the pressure: “One in three moms are turning to vices like overeating, drinking, drugs, and gambling to cope.” That post offers tips on how to avoid that.


Have you noticed that people are engaging in more self-destructive behaviors because of the increased hardships of daily life? What about your own bad habits?


Related reading:

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