September 25, 2020

COVID-19 and the Increase in Substance Use

The coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of Americans who have suffered from a variety of hardships over the past several months – loss of jobs, loss of income, balancing remote work with taking care of their family, and social isolation. In addition to coping with these issues, new evidence from government and mental health experts has been released indicating that the pandemic may be the cause for the recent increase in suicides, and alcohol and drug use.  

Although the U.S. has had a substance abuse problem for a number of years, recent evidence shows COVID-19 is making it worse. In June, it was reported that alcohol sales had risen 27% since March 7. Millennium Health, a national drug testing laboratory, also found an increase of 32% for nonprescribed fentanyl, 20% for methamphetamine, 12.5% for heroin, and 10% for cocaine. Public health officials across the country are also reporting spikes in drug overdose deaths. More than 30 states reported increases in opioid-involved overdose deaths, primarily related to illicit fentanyl.

Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The Recovery Village, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization, provided the following results:  

  • 55% increase in past-month alcohol consumption; 18% of respondents reporting a significant increase
  • 36% increase in illicit drug use
  • 17.4% increase of anxiety disorder symptoms compared to second quarter 2019
  • 17.8% increase of depressive disorders compared to second quarter 2019

Survey respondents indicated the following reasons for their increase use of alcohol and other drugs: 

  • 53% were trying to cope with stress
  • 39% were trying to relieve boredom
  • 32% were trying to cope with mental health symptoms, such as anxiety or depression

Dr. Rachel V.F. Rohaidy, Psychiatrist and Medical Director at The Recovery Village Miami Baptist Health, suggests the following tips to help reduce the stress brought on by the pandemic:

  • Set Limits. For example, set strict time constraints for work or school, and do not allow those activities to blend into family time.
  • Limit exposure to social media and news reporting, if you find that to be one of your stressors.
  • Incorporate exercise, meditation and healthy living into your daily life.
  • Set dinner time every night for the family. Include rules such as no devices or reading materials at the dinner table. Talk about what is worrying everyone. Including children is an important part as they too are likely feeling stressed. 
  • Start a new hobby or revive an old one. It will help with stress relief and positive thinking.
  • Utilize your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to find resources like free webinars or downloadable apps
  • Reference the Department of Health and Human Services for information about treatment facilities and resources related to mental and substance abuse disorders
  • Keep important phone numbers within reach. National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-TALK and National Helpline 1-800-622-TALK

Sources: EHS Today, “Drug Use on the Rise Because of Covid-19” Baptist Health South Florida, “Survey – Alcohol and Drug Use Increase During Covid-19 Pandemic”

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