What Does Adolescent Substance Use Look Like During the COVID-19 Pandemic? Examining Changes in Frequency, Social Contexts, and Pandemic-Related Predictors

J Adolesc Health. 2020 Sep;67(3):354-361. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.06.018. Epub 2020 Jul 18.


Purpose: The overarching goal of this study was to provide key information on how adolescents' substance use has changed since the corona virus disease (COVID)-19 pandemic, in addition to key contexts and correlates of substance use during social distancing.

Methods: Canadian adolescents (n = 1,054, Mage = 16.68, standard deviation = .78) completed an online survey, in which they reported on their frequency of alcohol use, binge drinking, cannabis use, and vaping in the 3 weeks before and directly after social distancing practices had taken effect.

Results: For most substances, the percentage of users decreased; however, the frequency of both alcohol and cannabis use increased. Although the greatest percentage of adolescents was engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and, shockingly, even face to face (23.6%). Concerns for how social distancing would affect peer reputation was a significant predictor of face-to-face substance use with friends among adolescents with low self-reported popularity, and a significant predictor of solitary substance use among average and high popularity teens. Finally, adjustment predictors, including depression and fear of the infectivity of COVID-19, predicted using solitary substance use during the pandemic.

Conclusions: Our results provide preliminary evidence that adolescent substance use, including that which occurs face to face with peers, thereby putting adolescents at risk for contracting COVID-19, may be of particular concern during the pandemic. Further, solitary adolescent substance use during the pandemic, which is associated with poorer mental health and coping, may also be a notable concern worthy of further investigation.

Keywords: Adolescent; Alcohol; COVID-19; Cannabis; Substance use; Vaping.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology
  • Pandemics* / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Vaping / epidemiology