Changes in substance use among young adults during a respiratory disease pandemic

Pravesh Sharma, Jon O. Ebbert, Jordan K. Rosedahl, Lindsey M. Philpot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: News articles, commentaries, and opinion articles have suggested that ongoing social distancing measures coupled with economic challenges during COVID-19 may worsen stress, affective state, and substance use across the globe. We sought to advance our understanding of the differences between individuals who change their substance use patterns during a public health crisis and those who do not. Methods: Cross-sectional survey of young adults (18–25 years of age) assessing respondent characteristics and vaping, tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana use. We calculated prevalence estimates, prevalence changes, and prevalence ratios with associated 95% confidence intervals and looked for differences with the chi-square test. Results: Of the total sample, 53.2% (n = 542/1018) young adults reported vaping or using tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana. Among the 542 respondents reporting use, 34.3% reported a change in their use patterns. Among respondents reporting changes in substance use patterns during the pandemic (n = 186), 68.8% reported an increase in alcohol use, 44.0% reported a decrease in vaping product use, and 47.3% reported a decrease in tobacco product use due to COVID-19. Substance use changed significantly for respondents with increasing degree of loneliness (continuous loneliness score: prevalence ratio = 1.12, 95% confidence interval = 1.01–1.25), anxiety (prevalence ratio = 1.45, 95% confidence interval = 1.14–1.85), and depression (prevalence ratio = 1.44, 95% confidence interval = 1.13–1.82). Conclusion: Self-reported substance use among young adults was observed to change during a pandemic, and the degree of loneliness appears to impact these changes. Innovative strategies are needed to address loneliness, anxiety, depression, and substance use during global health crises that impact social contact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSAGE Open Medicine
StatePublished - 2020


  • COVID-19
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • pandemic
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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