August 2, 2022
by Patricia Tomasi
A new study published in Current Psychiatry Reports looked at substance use among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The study investigates the question of whether or not substance use has increased or decreased in the youth population during the pandemic,” study author Hannah M. Layman told us. “There are many reasons why both are possible (for example: increasing due to coping strategies or decreasing due to increased time with family). Our study aimed to analyze existing literature to best answer this question. I personally was unsure of what we might find.”
There has been a lot of debate in the public health realm as to whether substance use would increase or decrease during the pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association, opioid and stimulant use is on the rise and that may in part be due to the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic as anxiety and depression have also increased.
Interestingly, people with substance use disorders are more likely to develop COVID-19 and experience worse outcomes. There has also been an increase in overdoses during the pandemic. Studies have shown that just a few months into the pandemic in 2020, 13 per cent of adults in the US say they started or increased substance use to deal with the stress of the pandemic. In the first few months of the pandemic, overdoses increased across America by 18 per cent. Over 40 states saw an increase in opioid-related deaths in 2020.
And what about youth?
“As a West Virginia native it is important to me to try to give back to my state,” Layman told us. “This is why I find it incredibly interesting to study our young people and find ways to advocate for their wellbeing.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are ways for youth to cope with the stress of the pandemic from learning about COVID-19, knowing the facts and separating fact from fiction, to helping to stop the spread of the virus through hand washing with soap with water, covering coughs and sneezing and avoiding close contact with others. Youth who are worried can also wear a mask, get vaccinated, and engage in activities that help promote relaxation and aid in the body’s ability to cope with stress including exercise and meditation. The CDC recommends avoiding drugs and alcohol as they can weaken the body’s ability to fight off the virus and can increase complications associated with COVID-19.
The researchers found that although the pandemic has created a great amount of stress for the youth population, access to substances dramatically decreased which in turn has decreased substance use in this population.
The researchers were not surprised with the results.
“There has been so much debate for both sides of how the study could have turned out,” Layman told us. “This made me so eager to search through the literature to answer the question.”
Layman believes that although substance use decreased for the youth population as a whole, it would be interesting to see if there are other factors at play (such as socioeconomic status, gender, etc.) and how they affect substance use in youth during the pandemic.
About the Author
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com