Increased Difficulties Managing Chronic Medical Conditions During the COVID-19 Pandemic Are Associated With Increased Alcohol and Cannabis Use Among Unhoused and Unstably Housed Women

J Addict Med. 2023 Mar-Apr;17(2):e132-e134. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000001075. Epub 2022 Sep 9.


Objectives: The COVID-19 pandemic caused dramatic upsurges in stress and anxiety across the United States, as well as increased substance use to cope with pandemic-related stress. Few studies have focused exclusively on extremely disadvantaged individuals who are already at risk for substance use. We sought to understand factors associated with increased alcohol and cannabis use during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic among unsheltered and unstably housed women.

Methods: Between July and December 2020, we conducted phone surveys with San Francisco unhoused and unstably housed women regarding substance use, health, and health services use since the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020).

Results: Among 128 participants, increased use of alcohol and cannabis were reported by 15% and 23%, respectively. The odds of increased use of both substances were 4 times higher in participants who also had increased difficulties managing symptoms of a chronic medical condition during the pandemic.

Conclusions: An intentional and comprehensive approach to managing the health of particularly vulnerable individuals during the COVID pandemic could help alleviate its exacerbating influences. Such an approach should include resources, tools and interventions for managing substance use, as well as chronic, non-COVID medical conditions, which are common and strongly tied to substance use in unhoused and unstably housed women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cannabis*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / therapy
  • United States / epidemiology