Changes in Substance Use Among People Seeking Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evaluating Mental Health Outcomes and Resilience

Subst Abuse. 2021 Dec 6:15:11782218211061746. doi: 10.1177/11782218211061746. eCollection 2021.


Background: Alcohol and other drug (AOD) use patterns have altered as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions. This study aimed to: (i) determine the impact of the pandemic on patterns of AOD use among individuals seeking treatment, (ii) identify which mental health and resilience factors were associated with changes in patterns of AOD use and (iii) evaluate changes in the contextual factors (eg, motivations) associated with use.

Methods: Cross-sectional surveys were completed by clients (n = 325) who had sought AOD treatment from January 2020 onwards. We measured quantity and frequency of AOD use now compared to before the pandemic, mental health (depression, anxiety, trauma exposure), resilience and contextual factors related to AOD use.

Results: Quantity of tobacco and cannabis use increased post-pandemic, while methamphetamine and alcohol did not change. Depression was associated with more frequent alcohol use now compared to before the pandemic, while anxiety and lower resilience were associated with less frequent cannabis use now. Lower resilience was associated changes in methamphetamine use. Depression was associated with using more frequently for enjoyment and to alleviate loneliness following the pandemic, and anxiety was associated with using earlier in the day and to alleviate boredom.

Conclusions: The pandemic has led to increased frequency of AOD use for a subset of individuals seeking treatment. Depression, anxiety and resilience are important factors associated with altered AOD use, and changes in the motivations and control surrounding use. Special consideration of this should be considered during AOD treatment through the pandemic.

Keywords: AOD treatment; COVID-19; Substance use; anxiety; depression.