Stress has adults drinking and getting high more

Joe Snooks stocks up on beer and liquor on March 23, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

During the coronavirus stay-at-home orders, more adults report using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress, researchers report.

More than one in four adults (28%) report using alcohol or drugs to feel better, according to a new study that tracked behaviors a week after the World Health Organization announced the pandemic in mid-March.

Adults report using a variety of coping strategies to deal with mental and physical health concerns related to uncertainty with the pandemic.

Concerns include feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping and relaxing, and feeling hopeless and afraid, says Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan and lead author of the research brief.



The sample includes responses from 562 adults (both parents and nonparents)—many of which report their depression and anxiety spiked several days or more in the previous two weeks.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Nearly all respondents reported they engage in social distancing, but fewer reported they were in lockdown or social isolation. When asked about worries associated with the coronavirus, 47% indicated they worry they can’t afford to pay bills and 53% worry that money will run out.
  • About 22% said they drink alcohol more, and 1 in 7 said they used marijuana more since the pandemic began.
  • Symptoms of depression were high: Two out of three reported feeling tired or having little energy, trouble sleeping, and feeling hopeless. About 32% of respondents had symptoms that would indicate major depression.
  • At least 50% reported symptoms of anxiety nearly every day or several days a week since the pandemic. Approximately 32% of respondents had symptoms that would indicate mild anxiety, about 19% for moderate anxiety and 17% for severe anxiety.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, symptoms of depression and anxiety were much higher than would be expected in the general population. However, respondents also said they were using coping mechanisms such as acceptance (96% of respondents), taking action to make the situation better (89%), and turning to work or other activities to take their minds off things (84%).
  • Among those in romantic relationships, 22% reported having disagreements with their partner related to coronavirus, 19% reported more disagreements than usual, and 15% reported more verbal fights than usual.
  • Although about 1 in 4 respondents were having more conflicts in the first two weeks after the pandemic, a majority (71%) said they have felt emotionally closer to their partner than usual.

The findings suggest that as disruptions to daily life worsen, mental health professionals need to prepare for an increase in mental health and substance use problems, Lee says.

Source: University of Michigan