Worry and stress related to COVID-19 is associated with substance use coping mechanisms, according to a recent study in Psychiatry Research. People who used drugs and/or alcohol before the pandemic exhibited the highest levels of worry and fear.

The study included 160 participants between the ages of 18 and 65. The researchers asked participants about COVID-19 infection, exposure, and travel. The researchers also asked about drug, alcohol, and tobacco use before and during the pandemic. Other questionnaires revolved around COVID-19 worry and fear and substance use motives.

The researchers found that 6.9% of participants started smoking cigarettes during the pandemic while 8.8% started drinking alcohol, 5.0% started using cannabis, 4.4% started using e-cigarettes, 5.6% started using stimulants, and 5.6% started using opioids.

A limitation of this study was that substance use was assessed using self-report questionnaires.


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“Across substances, levels of COVID-19-related worry and fear were highest among those people who initiated substances during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to those who used substances prior and those who never used. This suggests worry and fear might be risk factors for starting using substances. The results “may provide critical clinical information for helping individuals cope with this pandemic,” the researchers conclude.

Reference

Rogers AH, Shepherd JM, Garey L, Zvolensky MJ. Psychological factors associated with substance use initiation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatry Res. 2020 Nov;293:113407. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113407