Substance Dependence Increases Amid Pandemic

Substance Dependence Increases Amid Pandemic

Physical isolation and psychological stress due to the pandemic restrictions continue to spur substance dependence across the U.S.

Anjali Krishnan

Nearly one in four in the latest TIPP Poll reported increased reliance on substances due to pandemic restrictions.

We asked, “Have you or a member of your household experienced an increase in reliance on substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc.) due to pandemic lockdowns?” Almost a quarter of the respondents stated that they turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with the situation.

  • 24% said Yes
  • 76% said No

While the increase was lowest in the Midwest, only 17%, the west of the country showed the highest rise at 32%. Some experts believe that the legalization and easy availability of cannabis could be contributing to the increased drug use in certain regions. Records show that the online sale of cannabis shot up in the first few months of the lockdown. Where recreational marijuana is legal, more people reported an increase in their dependence.

  • 28% increase in states where recreational marijuana is legal
  • 20% increase in states where recreational marijuana is NOT legal

Driving The Increase

The pandemic has been tough on everyone. While most grappled with physical isolation, many Americans worried about their livelihoods and health. People found different ways to cope, but a significant portion of the population made unhealthy choices to deal with the trying circumstances. Reports show that the use of alcohol and drugs has gone up significantly.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths for the twelve months ranging from May 2019 to May 2020. Synthetic opioids and cocaine were involved in more than a quarter of these deaths.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. CDC reported that 13% of Americans had started using or increased their substance useto deal with the extraordinary circumstances. Health experts warn that people with substance use disorders are more susceptible to COVID-19 and face a higher risk of hospitalization and mortality.

Under The Hood

Alarmingly, data shows that substance use has gone up among the youth the most. Here’s the break up according to age category:

  • 33% in the 18-24 years
  • 41% in the 25-44 years
  • 16% in the 45-64 years
  • 4% among 65+

The survey also found that more men (32%) than women (16%) turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with the current stressful situation.

The pandemic and the ensuing restrictions have adversely affected a large section of the population. Economic stress is a significant factor driving depression and anxiety. Anxiety disorders, depression, and suicidal tendencies have also seen a considerable spike across the country.

Data revealed that certain sections of the population were significantly more vulnerable to increased substance use. As per our survey, an increase in substance use is relatively more common among Blacks and Hispanics.

  • 20% among Whites
  • 31% among Blacks
  • 39% among Hispanics

Based on income, it’s among the affluent, those households with annual income above $75K, that has shown the highest rise in dependence on drugs and alcohol. The easy availability of recreational drugs, the travel ban, and closed group parties are likely reasons for this trend. According to income brackets, the numbers are

  • 16% under $30K
  • 23% among $30K-$50K
  • 13% in the $50K-$75K
  • 39% among $75K+

The lockdown, closures, and restrictions on movement have taken away many coping mechanisms. As more people turn to alcohol or drugs more frequently to cope with the pandemic’s fallout, health workers urge vigilance and caution. Institutions like the CDC and APA are increasing efforts to spread awareness and step up monitoring. Medical professionals encourage people to seek help instead of reaching for a drug or drowning one’s anxieties in alcohol.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

About the survey

TechnoMetrica conducted The TIPP Poll, an online survey from March 31 to April 3.  The nationwide study had a sample of 1,436 Americans, 18 or older, and TechnoMetrica's network of panel partners provided the study sample. Upon the study completion, TechnoMetrica weighted the study dataset by gender, age, race, education, and geographical region to mirror known benchmarks such as the U.S. Census. The credibility interval (CI) for the survey is +/- 2.8 percentage points, meaning the study is accurate to within ± 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Americans been surveyed. Subgroups based on gender, age, ethnicity, and region have higher credibility intervals due to smaller sample sizes.

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