Stress Has Adults Drinking and Getting High More

Social distancing and depression could be behind rise in substance use
May 4, 2020 Updated: May 4, 2020

During COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, more adults report using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress, researchers report.

More than 1 in 4 adults (28 percent) report using alcohol or drugs to feel better, according to a new study that tracked behaviors a week after the World Health Organization announced the pandemic in mid-March.

Adults report using a variety of coping strategies to deal with mental and physical health concerns related to uncertainty with the pandemic.

Concerns include feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping and relaxing, and feeling hopeless and afraid, said Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan and lead author of the research brief.

The sample includes responses from 562 adults (both parents and nonparents)—many of whom report that their depression and anxiety spiked several days or more in the previous two weeks.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Nearly all respondents reported they engage in social distancing, but fewer reported they were in lockdown or social isolation. When asked about worries associated with the coronavirus, 47 percent indicated they worry they can’t afford to pay bills, and 53 percent worry that money will run out.
  • About 22 percent said they drink alcohol more, and 14 percent said they used marijuana more since the pandemic began.
  • Symptoms of depression were high: Two out of three reported feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping, and feeling hopeless. About 32 percent of respondents had symptoms that would indicate major depression.
  • At least 50 percent reported symptoms of anxiety nearly every day or several days a week since the pandemic. Approximately 32 percent of respondents had symptoms that would indicate mild anxiety, about 19 percent for moderate anxiety, and 17 percent for severe anxiety.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, symptoms of depression and anxiety were much higher than would be expected in the general population. However, respondents also said they were using coping mechanisms such as acceptance (96 percent of respondents), taking action to make the situation better (89 percent), and turning to work or other activities to take their minds off things (84 percent).
  • Among those in romantic relationships, 22 percent reported having disagreements with their partner related to COVID-19, 19 percent reported more disagreements than usual, and 15 percent reported more verbal fights than usual.
  • Although about 1 in 4 respondents were having more conflicts in the first two weeks after the pandemic, a majority (71 percent) said they have felt emotionally closer to their partner than usual.

The findings suggest that as disruptions to daily life worsen, mental health professionals need to prepare for an increase in mental health and substance use problems, Lee said.

This article was originally published by the University of Michigan. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.