Has Substance Abuse Increased During The Pandemic? •

COVID-19 has significantly affected millions of people around the world, causing psychological problems brought about by unemployment, business closure, restrictions, and uncertainties. The question this article would aim to answer is whether substance abuse increased during the pandemic. Learn what research studies show about the impacts of the pandemic on the rate of substance abuse and people’s lives nowadays.


Brief Answer

Substance abuse has increased dramatically during the pandemic. In such a short span, many people resorted to alcohol and illicit drugs in which withdrawal can have some nasty symptoms. Looking at how the virus escalated would help understand this development.


How COVID-19 Emerged

In December 2019, the first human COVID-19 case was reported in Wuhan, China, which was then impossible to determine how the infection of the virus happened. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic or worldwide health concern on 11 March 2020.

WHO’s director-general stated on the media briefing the number of COVID-19 cases increased 13-fold with tripled count on the number of affected countries. At the time, there were already over 118,000 COVID-19 cases in 114 countries, and about 4,291 died because of the virus.

Days, weeks, and months passed, people have seen the peak rates of active cases and fatalities, patients crowding emergency rooms, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Long-term care or residential healthcare settings where senior citizens stay, one of the vulnerable groups, have increased in COVID cases as well.

Because of the rapid increase in the number of cases, strict safety protocols were set in place to reduce transmission of the virus. Mandatory business closure, community lockdowns, quarantine guidelines, social distancing, and wearing of face coverings were enforced. Employees shifted from office to home from work settings and children to remote schooling.


What Statistics Show

A March 2021 report of the American Psychological Association shows the following findings of substance abuse during the pandemic:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated 13% of people in the US increased their use of substances as of June 2020 to cope with stress due to the virus outbreak.
  • Mandy Owens, a clinical psychologist of the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, observed a significant increase in substance use, noting the increase in frequency and number of drug use during the pandemic. Because of difficult access, some people may have started new drugs such as increased use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
  • The American Medical Association reported overdoses have spiked since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The early months of the COVID-19 pandemic have a higher incidence of overdoses by 18% than the same months in 2019 and have continued to increase throughout 2020.
  • Monitoring substance abuse during the pandemic heavily relies on health care records and school-based or door-to-door surveys, which are more challenging to carry out during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Reasons People Resort To Substance Abuse

How to tell if someone is abusing alcohol? There are many reasons why people excessively drink alcohol and abuse prescriptions or illicit drugs. Factors such as stress, personal conflicts, finances, and relationship issues play a role in this trend. But with the strike of the pandemic, people are more burdened. Here are the identified most common reasons for substance abuse during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic:


Strong links were identified between unemployment, substance use, and relapse. Even the fear of losing a job already increases the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs. Unemployed individuals have a higher likelihood to use alcohol or drugs, eventually developing substance use disorders.

Social Isolation And Depression

The trauma brought by the widespread pandemic increased cases of depression, which leads to increased substance abuse. According to a news report, grief over losses, legitimate fears of contracting the virus, and the absence of caregivers are root causes of depression.

In addition, outlets for coping with stressors have been restricted such as traveling, gym workouts, and outings with friends. Social distancing results in social isolation and touch deprivation. Also, obesity due to prolonged staying at home adds to the problem.

Experts highly recommend the following tips when facing depression and other mental health consequences during the pandemic:

  • Find a support group.
  • Seek online help via telemedicine.
  • Join a new community.
  • Adopt a coping strategy.
Boredom And Stress

A poll was commissioned in May 2020 to analyze how much people drink while staying at home during the pandemic. The data analyzed if Canadians drink more alcohol than usual and if the amount of alcohol and frequency has increased. The poll summary report shows boredom and stress increased alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family Problems

The pandemic also increased the rate of family problems, resulting in domestic violence due to complex influencing factors such as unemployment, social isolation, and uncertainties. One of the common risk factors for domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect associated with the pandemic includes increased alcohol and substance abuse by caregivers.

According to UNICEF, these factors increase the risk of children to harm, being trapped in abusive situations. Overstressed caregivers tend to become abusive and violent. Because these new stresses occur at a time when child and family welfare services are disrupted, more and more children are becoming victims.


New Trends Of Substance Abuse

Forced isolation and restriction to move around to obtain illegal substances affect the behavior of drug addicts. Some of them even violate the quarantine to look for drugs, which also exacerbates mental health problems. Drug abusers try to find means to get what they crave, and new trends of substance abuse have been identified during the pandemic.

Drug addicts use prescription sedatives and some have shifted to narcotics like new synthetic opioids and designer benzodiazepines widely available online. In 2019, these two new psychoactive substances have the highest consumption increase.



The rate of substance abuse increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the statistical reports show the facts. More and more people are resorting to alcoholism and drug overdose as a way of coping with stress during this trying time.

Because of unemployment, stress, boredom, social isolation, restrictions, and fear of contracting the virus, peoples’ mental health is drastically affected, resulting in increased substance abuse cases.


HealthStatus Team

HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our blood alcohol, body fat and calories burned calculators.

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Our team of health professionals, and researchers use peer reviewed studies as source elements in our articles.

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