Substance Abuse shadowing COVID-19

Maya Guzman, Writer

In these unprecedented times, it is often difficult to healthily nurture one’s mentality and physicality. With COVID-19 strains creeping on us amidst our long days, and election anxieties intensifying; it is no wonder much of our youth have faced hardship evolving from a society composed of months of quarantine and fluorescent screens.


Throughout the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, Nazish Irman and Irum Aamar beg the question, why, in their research of the “Psychological burden of quarantine in children and adolescents: A rapid systematic review and proposed solutions”.


Referencing the cognitive adversity our youth has faced, the journal states, “Uncertainty of disease status, restrictions on mobility and daily activities, separation from loved ones, and boredom may contribute to negative effects of quarantine…Duration of quarantine, provision of inadequate information, boredom and frustration, fears about being infected, financial losses, and stigma were some of the factors identified with stress in quarantined population.”


Consequent to our current restrictions “psychological issues in quarantined individuals including anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, anger and post-traumatic stress disorder,” combat as detrimental health concerns amidst these dire times, and suggests mental-related calamity awaiting future generations. Additionally, the journal suggests extensive post-traumatic stress disorder following the list of symptoms, with 77% surrounding “difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness, nervousness, feelings of loneliness, being more uneasy and increased worrying.”


As our youth continues to battle existentialism and manage mental disorders, in a period where change has inversely become the new normal, it is understandable that substance abuse has become widely-ranged amongst our next generation.


George F. Koob details the gravity of the increase in substance abuse between adolescents with previous triggers and mental disorders throughout quarantine in his volume, Addiction as a Coping Response: Hyperkatifeia, Deaths of Despair, and COVID-19. “The fear, dysphoria, and social isolation of COVID-19 could greatly augment allostatic load in the domain of addiction.” Furthermore, due to social distancing regulations “limited availability of in-person treatment and recovery support, raise concerns about the use of alcohol and other drugs in an effort to cope with distress.”


It is vital that amidst this global pandemic we do not downplay the importance of maintaining a healthy cognitive environment while focusing on the physical contamination of COVID-19. “We suggest that, as well as this important public health advice, governments…give public health warnings about excessive alcohol consumption during isolation to protect vulnerable individuals,” states Public Health Issue, The Lancet.


As we progress into our ninth month of quarantine, it is for the betterment of our generation that we continue to hold one another accountable for the management of our well being. Though topics like substance abuse are often perceived through an eye of taboo, it is essential we encourage the discussion of seeking help when it comes to coping mechanisms, the management of withdrawals, and the romanization of “getting high”. 


With an estimated 20% of Americans suffering from depression and anxiety disorders while simultaneously dueling a substance use disorder, we need to recognize these stigmas are not so much “disgraceful” as they are real and pragmatic.