This study investigated the impact of COVID-19 on substance use rates and patterns among 1054 Canadian adolescents aged 14–18. Participants completed online surveys regarding their substance use in the 3 weeks prior to and 3 weeks following the implementation of COVID-19 social distancing measures.
- Fewer adolescents reported heavy episodic drinking, cannabis use, or vaping in the 3 weeks following the implementation of social distancing measures, compared with the 3 weeks prior.
- Among adolescents with substance use, the mean number of days of substance use increased significantly for alcohol (0.76 to 0.96 days) and cannabis (0.94 to 1.1 days) in the 3 weeks following the implementation of social distancing measures, compared with the 3 weeks prior.
- Substance use was most often solitary (49%), followed by: with parents (42%), with peers using technology (32%), and face-to-face with peers (24%).
Comments: Spending time at home removed from social contacts is particularly hard for teens for whom peer interactions are important for growth. This study has found that, overall, fewer youth are using substances following the implementation of COVID-19 social distancing measures, but those who use alcohol or cannabis increased their use. It could be that those who rely on substances as a primary coping strategy increase their use because they are triggered by the stress of the pandemic. In addition to the risks inherent to unhealthy substance use, these adolescents are also at peak risk for spreading infectious disease: they exhale forcefully when smoking or vaping, share materials, and cannot wear masks while they are using substances. Treating substance use disorders and helping youth decrease their use are key containment strategies for managing COVID-19.
Sharon Levy, MD
Reference: Dumas TM, Ellis W, Litt DM. What does adolescent substance use look like during the COVID-19 pandemic? Examining changes in frequency, social contexts, and pandemic-related predictors. J Adolesc Health. 2020;67(3):354–361.