Substance use and COVID-19

During these difficult times, people may turn to substances to cope

The COVID 19 pandemic is having some serious ripple effects that may be contributing to many of us experiencing much higher levels of stress and anxiety.

We’re concerned about our loved ones catching the virus, many of us are living with job insecurity, isolation from family and friends, social distancing, our kids are isolated from their friends and their schools – and there’s no real end in sight.

During these difficult times, people may turn to substances like alcohol, cannabis and smoking or vaping as ways of coping.

It is important for parents to be aware that they may have increased their own substance use to deal with their stress, and as a consequence, their kids may consider that using substances is an appropriate way to cope with their uncomfortable feelings.

However, coping with stress by using substances like alcohol, cannabis, and vaping can have serious consequences on a person’s overall physical and mental health, especially when in conjunction with the presence of the COVID 19 virus.

Vaping and Smoking

While COVID-19 is less likely to cause serious symptoms in younger people, in combination with substance use like vaping or smoking cigarettes or cannabis, it could pose a serious health threat.” Dr. Nicholas Chadi and Dr. Richard Bélanger

The Canadian Paediatric Society shares these important messages for parents:

  • Vaping and smoking—cigarettes or cannabis—weaken the lung’s regular defenses and affect cardiovascular health.
  • Vaping and smoking—cigarettes or cannabis-based on adult observations, may put young people at increased risk of severe coronavirus infection.
  • Young people who smoke or vape may be more likely to develop complications from coronavirus like pneumonia or acute respiratory distress, which could result in hospitalization and/or treatment in an intensive care unit.

Additionally, due to the social nature of vaping and smoking, there is an increased risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection, so vaping and smoking with other people should be strictly avoided at all times.

Find out more about youth and vaping here.

Alcohol and Cannabis use

Statistics are showing that Canadians are presently self-reporting an increase in alcohol use.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction commissioned a survey to find out if COVID‑19 measures were affecting the amount of alcohol that Canadians are consuming. The results are clear:

  • 21% of Canadians (aged 18–34) report their alcohol consumption has increased.
  • 25% of Canadians (aged 35–54) have increased the amount of alcohol they drink while spending additional time at home.
  • Only 10% of adults older than 54 say they have been drinking more alcohol since they began practicing social distancing and self-isolation.

Canadians also report that the main reasons for their increased alcohol use are: the change of schedule (51%), boredom (49%) and stress (44%). (Source CCSA)

Cannabis smoke contains toxins, carcinogens and irritants that are known to have negative effects on lung health and regular use can cause coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest. Smoking cannabis can also suppress the immune system, making a person more susceptible to infection.

Smoking or vaping cannabis can worsen the respiratory symptoms of the disease – it will not prevent, alleviate or treat Covid-19 symptoms.

Source: COVID-19 and Cannabis Smoking and Vaping: Four Things You Should Know 2020 CCSA

COVID-19, Alcohol and Cannabis Use (below) outlines some of the risks associated with increased alcohol and cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic, including how it can affect your immune system and increase susceptibility to COVID-19.

It’s important to reduce the potential harms that are associated with increased alcohol and cannabis consumption.

Finding healthy ways to manage your anxiety and stress, and positively influencing your kids to do the same is essential at this time. We’ve provided a few suggestions to help you and your family manage your stress during this pandemic.

Here are two DFKC resources to provide you with more information about youth and substance use.

Here is a list of additional resources:

Be sure to store alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and vaping products safely away from your children at all times.

Find out more about Youth and Alcohol here. 

Find out more about Youth and Cannabis here. 

Prescription Drugs

One in ten Ontario high school students reported using prescription drugs like opioid pain relievers and ADHD drugs non-medically last year.  (Source: CAMH’s OHSDUS 2019.)   The home is the most common source of these prescription medications. In fact, 48% of homes do not store medications safely. (Source: DFK Tracking study 2017).

Kids need to understand the risks of non-medical use of prescriptions. It’s always important to have conversations with your kids about substance use, especially now.

Secure your medications.  Parents are encouraged to always store their prescriptions in a secure place that is out of reach. During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to return old and expired medications to the pharmacies. Collect any medications that are no longer used, and store them safely (don’t flush them down the toilet!) until it is safe to take them back to the pharmacy for disposal.

Find out more about youth and prescription drugs here.

Street Drugs 

We already know about the harmful effects of street drugs that may contain fentanyl or other additives, but in the COVID 19 landscape, it’s important to understand that fentanyl and other opioids can slow your breathing rate, so COVID-19 may increase the risk of overdose death when using opioids.1

If your child is using opioids problematically, it’s important to continue any harm reduction protocol they are following and continue his or her treatment as much as possible. Keep Naloxone on hand and be sure to know the signs of an opioid overdose.

Let’s Talk Opioids, including fentanyl has important information about opioids, including how to prevent an overdose.

It is important for all of us to reach out and connect with others during this difficult time. We all need to recognize that in addition to the physical impact COVID-19 has on our families, friends, and communities, it may also deeply impact our mental health. The choices we make now, for ourselves and our children may ultimately affect our future.

Your guidance and support for your children have never been more important. You’ve got this!

1.CDC, People Who Use Substances, 2020