Young People Using Less Substances During COVID

It’s no surprise to anyone that the COVID-19 pandemic changed kids’ lives in so many ways. Many young people had virtual graduations, many are still doing virtual learning, and overall trends have shifted in a way that will shape the future generation. Not all of these shifts and changes are necessarily negative. Marijuana use, drinking, smoking, and vaping all fell among U.S. youth, likely because they had to spend more time at home and less time with their friends, researchers say.

An analysis of roughly 50 studies have showed slowing substance use and abuse among young people.

“One of the driving factors for youth substance use is access to substances,” said study co-author Hannah Layman, a social and behavioral sciences doctoral student at West Virginia University.

“With stay-at-home orders, virtual schooling and social distancing, children have been spending more time with family and are more socially isolated from peers than before. Although social isolation from peers may have a negative impact on their mental health, it may just be one of the desirable outcomes of the pandemic when considering substance use in children,” Layman explained in a university news release.

It’s common for teens and preteens to want to try new things with their peers. When it comes to substances, teens have easy access to pot, tobacco, alcohol and vaping, and regard them as less serious than “hard drugs,” according to Layman and colleagues.

The study authors said further research is needed to assess the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth substance use, including among those at high-risk and of different genders. Previous studies have shown an increase in substance use among U.S. youth, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods or in difficult family circumstances.

Additionally, during the pandemic, we saw TikTok trends of young people quitting vaping. They would often do things like dunking their vapes in a glass of water, so they didn’t work anymore as a symbolic representation of their commitment to quitting. Young people seeing their peers attempting to quit in such a public way may pursued them to do the same.

“Substance use can affect a young person’s body in many ways, such as the development of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, conduct problems, personality disorders and suicidal thoughts), injuries due to accidents, decreased bone mineral density, preventing proper brain growth and function, delayed puberty, liver damage and so much more,” Layman said.

Increased parent or caregiver supervision can help prevent substance use problems in youth, Layman said. She also recommends early intervention, education about the dangers of substance use and providing a good example.

“Our findings also identified the importance of improving youth mental health and the value of telemedicine to address young people’s health needs during the pandemic,” she said. So, like we always say, take some time to sit down and talk with the young people in your life in an open, non-judgmental, and honest way. Have a conversation with them about how they feel about substance use, what their friends think about things like vaping and marijuana, and just take some time to listen and talk with them.