Alcohol Use Down, Nicotine Use Up for Teens During COVID-19 Pandemic

Likelihood of using substances up when youth were stressed by pandemic-related uncertainty, family experienced material hardship

TUESDAY, Aug. 24, 2021 (HealthDay News) — During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, youth in early adolescence had a reduced use of alcohol and an increased use of nicotine and misuse of prescription drugs, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

William E. Pelham III, Ph.D., from the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues enrolled 7,842 youth at 21 study sites across the United States to examine changes in early adolescent substance use between May and August 2020. Use of alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and other substances in the previous 30 days was reported. Data were linked to those from prepandemic surveys completed by the same youth in 2018 to 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers found that in the six months since stay-at-home orders were issued, past 30-day substance use remained stable, was mainly episodic (one to two days in the past month), and was mainly limited to a single substance. Fewer youth were using alcohol and more were using nicotine or misusing prescription drugs compared with before the pandemic. The likelihood of using substances was increased when youth were stressed by pandemic-related uncertainty; their family experienced material hardship; their parents used alcohol or drugs; or they experienced greater depression or anxiety during the pandemic. There was no correlation observed for engagement in social distancing or worry about COVID-19 infection with substance use.

“These findings underscore the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on youth and families with preexisting disadvantages,” Pelham said in a statement.

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