How COVID-19 Expanded Substance Abuse

COVID-19 affected millions of lives, but it is often not discussed enough how it increased anxiety, depression, loneliness, and substance abuse. The ongoing stress and uncertainty of this pandemic changed our daily lives and increased the demand for mental health services across the United States.

Many Americans reported substance abuse as a way of coping with the pandemic, which has led to an eighteen percent increase nationwide in overdoses compared to the same period in 2019. Read on to learn more about how COVID-19 negatively contributed to the rise of substance abuse in the United States.

Diana Vaculová
Published on

Substance use and overdose death increase

According to the Centers for Disease Control, substance use and drug overdose deaths increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. One cause of this was social isolation, which increased anxiety and led people to struggle with mental health. Many people turned to substance abuse as a coping mechanism, often resulting in drug overdoses.

More than 99,000 people died due to drug overdose in the first year of the pandemic, which means an almost 30 percent increase from the previous 77,000 deaths. Around 75 percent of these deaths were connected to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. There was also an increase in drug use for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

The relationship between drug use and the pandemic

The pandemic made people feel stressed, lonely, and isolated, which are common factors leading to unhealthy decisions such as drinking and taking drugs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was harder to access treatments for substance use disorders. Some people who struggle with substance abuse might usually turn to physical activities or social interactions as a coping mechanism, but the pandemic made these activities difficult.

People who use drugs alone are more likely to die because nobody can call 911 or administer naloxone. Moreover, at the beginning of the pandemic, seeking treatment from some clinics and community-based organizations was much more difficult due to decreased services and increased social distancing.

The severity of COVID-19 and drug-abusing

People who use drugs sometimes gather in groups and are at greater risk of COVID-19 exposure. Also, people with other underlying health conditions are at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.

Drug use can cause many serious effects on the body, increasing the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 for people who also use drugs. For example, opioid use can cause breathing to slow, resulting in decreased oxygen in the blood, brain damage, or even death.

Those who use cocaine, amphetamine, or methamphetamine can have a stroke, heart attack, seizure, and other chronic or fatal conditions. Smoking or vaping some drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, can cause chronic pulmonary disease, asthma, and other lung conditions, also leading to an increased risk of death due to COVID-19.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can people who have substance abuse problems have a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes! Substance use disorders are considered underlying medical conditions that can increase the risk of severe complications due to COVID-19. Vaccines for COVID-19 are usually recommended to decrease the risk. Be sure to seek guidance from a qualified medical professional if you are someone you know suffers from a substance abuse disorder and would like to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Are people using more drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. Data has shown that drug overdose deaths increased during the pandemic, and more than 93,000 people died due to drug overdose in the United States in 2020.

Are people at greater risk of developing substance abuse disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic?

So far, no data has been released that would indicate this. However, some scientists believe that stress, trauma, mental illness, and mental distress can trigger substance abuse disorders, and people worldwide have reported increased suffering from these problems.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the frequency of drug overdose?

Data indicates drug use in the United States has significantly increased during the pandemic. Drug screens and drug screening kits ordered by healthcare providers and legal systems have increased in these numbers.


Substance use has risen during COVID-19 pandemic. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from,30%25%20from%20the%20year%20before.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Substance use during the pandemic. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, July 13). Covid-19 and people at increased risk. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, June 3). Covid-19 & Substance use. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from



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