Substance use, mental disorders and COVID-19: a volatile mix

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 1;34(4):351-356. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000707.


Purpose of review: The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions have uniquely and disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. This review summarizes recent evidence on the relationship between psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders and COVID-19, highlighting acute and long-term risks, pharmacotherapy interactions and implications regarding appropriate and timely evidence-based treatment.

Recent findings: Evidence points to a complex relationship between psychiatric and substance use disorders and COVID-19. A range of risk factors associated with psychiatric and substance use disorders increases the risk of exposure to, and complications arising from, the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 infection has been indicated as having acute and potential long-term impacts on both psychiatric and substance use disorders. Social disruption associated with restrictions imposed to curb transmission has also been identified as a risk factor for new onset of disorders and recurrence and exacerbation of existing conditions.

Summary: Early recognition and intervention are key to preventing chronic disability associated with psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, and their co-occurrence. It is critical that those most in need of services do not fall through the cracks of our healthcare systems. The pandemic has fast tracked the opportunity for widespread implementation of digital health interventions but ensuring these are accessible and available to all, including our most vulnerable, will be a critical task for our future health and social ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Pandemics
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology