A new editorial on the pandemic and youth substance risk concludes COVID provided protective benefits for some, while contributing to risk factors for others.
Writing in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Linda Richter, Ph.D., Vice President, Prevention Research and Analysis at Partnership to End Addiction notes that a silver lining of the pandemic restrictions was that they highlighted and reinforced certain principles that prevention scientists have long known: for example, that more time spent with family is generally protective while more unsupervised time with peers is generally risky when it comes to youth substance use.
Richter says the pandemic exposed significant vulnerabilities in our social safety net. Opioid overdose rates skyrocketed as vulnerable people were cut off from their limited but necessary healthcare and personal supports. The policies aimed at protecting the population from illness put significant strain on young people’s mental and emotional health, social ties and academic progress.
As the pandemic progresses, newer studies are exploring its more nuanced and evolving effects with regard to youth substance use. To better understand the varied effects of the pandemic on the potential for heightened risk of youth substance use, and respond effectively, some key variables to consider examining in future research include: family dynamics, adult modeling of substance use, social isolation, time spent with parents, school stress, sleep, reduced access to substances and age of initiation.