Substance Abuse on the Rise


Avery Roellchen

Experts say that since the beginning of the pandemic, substance abuse has increased exponentially.

Avery Roellchen, Photojournalist

Among the fear during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have seen a new kind of pandemic emerging. Due to the social isolation, substance abuse is on the rise. 

“Humans are by nature, social creatures, and we rely on social interaction for feelings of self-worth,” said nurse Megan Leduc. “The feelings of isolation just affect our feelings of self-worth. When we lack that social interaction when we’re isolated, we’re only left with our own thoughts and our own feelings.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. 

“I am a lot more stressed,” said sophomore Taylor Hinterlong. “It’s difficult to connect with people and I’m not as social as I was last year. I would say I feel a lot more lonely now.” 

According to the Daily Orange, lack of social interaction through online learning has caused depression rates to rise.

“I don’t personally have depression but I know that online school has caused several people to fall into it because of loneliness, because you know, they don’t get to see people,” Hinterlong continues. “I think that also plays a lot into what people who are abusing substances are dealing with. Just not being able to socialize with people has had a big affect on them.” 

The U.S. is no stranger to substance abuse, but recent findings show that there has been an alarming increase of drug use within the last year due to COVID-19. Millennium Health, a national drug-testing laboratory, found that there has been an increase of 32% for non-prescribed fentanyl, 20% for methamphetamine, 12.5% for heroin, and 10% for cocaine.

Alcohol sales are at an all-time high nationally. Nielsen Corporation, a global marketing research firm, reported an increase of 54% in alcohol sales at the end of March 2020. 

“A lot of people are smoking marijuana, and benzodiazepines are way up. …alcohol abuse, heroin, methamphetamines, all of those are way up,” said Amy Tibbits, Director of the Lilac Center and Clinical Social Worker. 

Tibbitts says heroin and methamphetamines are the most dangerous substances a person can take. 

These forms of substances pose a grave danger to anyone using them especially while being so isolated. For those living alone during the pandemic, there is no one there to call 911 or seek any form of medical help. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it was found that people with a substance use disorder are 1.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19, and newly started users are eight times more likely to contract it. Additionally, COVID-19 patients with SUDs are more likely to require hospitalization and die from contracting COVID-19 than people without SUDs. 

Tibbits says that for people under 50, people more likely to die from overdose than they are from COVID-19.

“The first obvious [effect] is physical, they just don’t have the same, mental capacity that they would when they’re not on substances, but I think it also kind of effects every aspect of your life,” Leduc said. “It affects relationships with other people because the tendency is to start caring more about the substance itself and obtaining [the] substance than the things that you cared about before. [Also] Your friends, your social life, things like that.” 

It’s a temporary fix, to these feelings. But nothing good comes from using substances. It’s so important to find other coping methods, healthier coping mechanisms, that are going to get you through difficult times long term.”

— Megan Leduc

“So your priorities sometimes can shift when you’re abusing substances. Your just overall behaviors change,” Leduc proceeds. “Your whole sense of self also changes. For most substance abusers there’s a feeling of shame and guilt. And so that affects their self-esteem, which just perpetuates the problem. It’s just a whole kind of vicious cycle. It really touches every aspect of your life.”

According to Leduc, people need to find a healthy outlet for their stress like exercising or eating healthier instead of turning to substances.

“I would say, those who are struggling through COVID-19 just need to talk to someone, when you have that feeling of loneliness, anxiety, or depression, reach out and find somebody,” Leduc said. “It’s a temporary fix, to have these feelings, but nothing good comes from using substances. It’s so important to find other coping methods, healthier coping mechanisms, that are going to get you through difficult times long term. It’s just a quick fix and in the long term, it doesn’t help with that feeling. Those feelings will still be there.”