Increased mood disorder symptoms, perceived stress, and alcohol use among college students during the COVID-19 pandemic

Psychiatry Res. 2021 Feb:296:113706. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2021.113706. Epub 2021 Jan 5.


The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption during the spring of 2020. Many college students were told to leave campus at spring break and to complete the semester remotely. This study evaluates effects of this disruption on student well-being. Measures of psychological symptoms, perceived stress, and alcohol use during the pandemic were completed by 148 students in spring 2020 and 352 students in fall 2020 at a university in the southeastern U.S. Results from both cohorts were compared to 240 students who completed the same measures in the fall 2019 semester. Participants in spring 2020 reported more mood disorder symptoms, perceived stress, and alcohol use than did pre-pandemic participants and worry about COVID-19 was negatively associated with well-being. By fall 2020 symptoms had largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. In general, White students reported a greater effect of the pandemic on well-being than did African American students. Young adults appear to be less vulnerable to the most serious medical complications associated with COVID-19, but nonetheless experience psychological effects from the pandemic. Universities and practitioners who work with college students can help young adults manage their symptoms and avoid behaviors like risky alcohol use when confronted with stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Alcohol; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Depression; Stress; Young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Southeastern United States
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Young Adult