12 Jan 2021 admin


The COVID-19 crisis turned the world upside down, leaving no sector untouched. The impact of the virus was felt from the individual level to families, organizations, and countries as a whole, causing a change in the regular running of activities. With the COVID-19 crisis being declared a pandemic in March 2020, essential global measures were put in place to curb its spread, one of which is the imposed lockdown. Everybody suffered from the effects of the pandemic, and while looking for outlets to pour their frustrations, it isn’t surprising that there was a rise in the rate of substance abuse during the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Substance abuse is defined as the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.


During the lockdown, a survey conducted by The Recovery discovered that 55% of people reported an increase in alcohol consumption, with 18% reporting a significant increase and 36% reporting an increase in illicit drug use. It was also reported that alcohol sales had risen by 27% as of June 2020 from March 2020 when the WHO declared the COVID-19 crisis a pandemic and international emergency. In addition to alcohol abuse, the survey also showed an increase in substance use, reporting 37% use of Marijuana, 15% use of prescription opioids, 11% use of Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, 10% use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall, and 9% use of Cocaine. The rapid rise in the use of substances is worrisome, and while it may be a result of many underlying factors, some of the possible causes for the rise in substance abuse during the pandemic include:

Unemployment and Reduced Opportunities

One of the negative effects of the pandemic was the increase in unemployment rates. As the government-imposed lockdown forced everyone to remain indoors, the mode of work also had to change. This meant many jobs had to go remote, leaving non-essential, non-remote workers out of jobs. Unfortunately, the lockdown restrictions didn’t make searching for new jobs an easy task. Many unemployed people had to deal with the frustrations of strained finances and feelings of helplessness and inadequacies. Many turned to alcohol and other substances to get the comfort they needed.


Humans are social beings who thrive with a level of social interactions and communal activities. With schools shut down and social interactions limited, many were forced to stay at home. Having a lot of free time, it was only a matter of time before boredom set in. Out of curiosity and a need to explore new things, many may have delved into substance abuse. There was especially a significant increase in the use of alcohol despite pubs and bars being closed. People recovering from substance use disorders, who relied on the social support of physical group meetings, therapy, and exercises had their support system withdrawn. With their routine disrupted and being forced to live in isolation and boredom, many slipped back into old habits and relapsed.


Studies have linked stress to substance use disorders, especially in people who have a history of substance abuse. According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), stress is defined as “the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.” The pandemic and its resultant effect is a stressor for many people. Not knowing how to de-stress properly, many sought the comfort and release that came with substance abuse. A significant part of the population also lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some choosing excessive use of substances to deal with their grief. For many, using substances was their way of unwinding from the stress caused by the pandemic.

Mental Health Issues

Many people struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, panic disorders, and depression have been reported to suffer from some form of substance use disorders too. The restrictions on socialization and physical visits may have encouraged people with mental health issues to cope with their disorders by self-medicating and using illicit drugs. Benzodiazepines, like Ativan and Xanax, are sometimes prescribed for panic disorders, anxiety attacks, and disorders. During the lockdown, there was a spike in benzodiazepine use, likely due to the feeling of loneliness and anxiety that accompanied the lockdown. Before the lockdown, many people living with mental health issues managed it better by engaging in different activities. With the imposed lockdown and being unable to carry out those activities, others may have also increased their use of substances as a way to escape from problems they struggle with.


Substance abuse has always been a worldwide concern, especially with the rising rates of deaths due to drug overdose. While the lockdown restrictions have their advantages in curbing the spread of the virus, it is also impossible to ignore the adverse effects it may be having on people, resulting in a rise in substance abuse disorders. The feeling of loneliness associated with isolation is a common reason most people with substance abuse give for using. To tackle this problem, we are to collectively pursue a system that fosters socialization while maintaining COVID-19 safety precautions. Do you struggle with substance use disorders? With the right treatment and management plan, you can recover and still live your best life. Book a virtual consultation with a Canada licensed physician certified in addiction medicine/substance use disorders and begin your journey to sobriety today.