COVID-19 and Mental Health Considerations Amid Reintegration to School

7.0 Substance Use

Families with alcohol and drug problems usually have high levels of stress and confusion. High stress family environments are a risk factor for early and dangerous substance use, as well as mental and physical
health problems.

- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have negatively impacted mental health and created additional barriers for those who were already living with a mental health or substance use disorder. Studies show that people tend to increase their use of alcohol or substances during times of stress. Isolation, feelings of boredom, anxiety, depression, and the economic downturn, including unemployment and financial devastation can drive someone to cope by using substances.

Substance use affects young people differently than it affects adults. Substance use can mimic many of the signs of a mental health disorder, and it can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness. Research shows that brain development continues until a person’s mid-20s. Substance use, especially during the formative years of brain development, can lead to vulnerability to developing substance use disorders as the brain is developing and malleable. This can result in permanent changes within the brain’s chemistry. The last part of the brain that develops is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning including impulse control, decision-making, problem-solving, emotion regulation, and planning.

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