Americans increasing substance use to cope with mental strain; parents at highest risk

National survey by LifeWorks and Hazelden Betty Ford reveals many are unaware of the substance use resources offered by their employers
Learn About Hazelden Betty Ford

CENTER CITY, Minn. (June 24, 2021) — LifeWorks, a leading provider of technology-enabled total wellbeing solutions, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental-health score among Americans for the 14th consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for May is -5.3 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark. This is relatively consistent with the score reported in April 2021 (-5.5). LifeWorks partnered with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in May to release this special edition of the Index, focused on substance use.

The research revealed that close to one third of American respondents who use alcohol or other drugs reported an increase in alcohol consumption (31 percent) and other drug use (29 percent) during the pandemic. This trend is of particular concern among parents, as they are more than twice as likely to report an increase in substance use when compared to non-parents. This can negatively affect home dynamics, with parents who use alcohol and other drugs more than four times as likely as non-parents to report that substance use has made it difficult to complete home- or family-related tasks and responsibilities.  "American parents have struggled with professional and family-related strain, disruption and competing demands throughout the pandemic," said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing, LifeWorks. "In addition to their own adjustments, parents have also needed to support changes their children have made over the past year. We have consistently seen that the mental health of parents has been more compromised than non-parents through this pandemic, and this data shows that they are also more prone to unhealthy coping mechanisms."

In May, the research found that one quarter of respondents reported that their employer does (26 percent) or does not (25 percent) provide resources to help those who are experiencing challenges related to substance use. Although best practices include providing employees and their family members with access to treatment and support resources, 44 percent of respondents reported that they either do not know if their employer offers resources or are not sure what resources are available.

"The pandemic has highlighted the critical value of holistic and accessible behavioral health care and recovery support, as well as the need to make Americans more aware of the services and resources available," said Dr. Quyen Ngo, executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Butler Center for Research. "Employers should recognize that mental health and substance use disorders are common, that many employees are struggling behind closed doors, and that people who get help and support often become your best employees. I hope employers see the great impact they can have by making resources available for the full spectrum of wellbeing concerns, and proactively communicating the path for their employees to access support." 

This month, the American Mental Health Index™ report includes additional insights on substance use disorder treatment resources for employees, reasons people do not seek treatment, the impact of alcohol and other drug use on workplace absenteeism, and more.

About the Mental Health Index™

The monthly survey by LifeWorks was conducted through an online survey from April 24 to May 6, 2021, in partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research and with 5,000 respondents in the United States. All respondents reside in the United States and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

About LifeWorks

LifeWorks is a global leader in delivering technology-enabled solutions that help clients support the total wellbeing of their people and build organizational resiliency. By improving lives, we improve business. Our solutions span employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement and financial consulting, actuarial and investment services. LifeWorks employs approximately 7,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in more than 160 countries. For more information, visit

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.