The shocking number of Americans turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with coronavirus stress

Most people have at least one vice or unhealthy habit that they fall back on from time to time. Whether that be the occasional cigarette, extra late-night drink, or greasy cheeseburger, sometimes it helps to indulge a bit. Are there healthier ways to cope with stress and day-to-day pressures? Absolutely, but life is rarely black and white, and even the most disciplined among us experience the occasional weak moment. 

The key to such habits is to keep them in check. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety levels all over the country are at an all-time high right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. All of that stress, combined with stay-at-home orders, has led to more than one in four (28%) US adults turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. 

These statistics come from the University of Michigan. Researchers recently surveyed 562 Americans on their personal COVID-19 experiences and how they’re dealing with the ongoing pandemic. 

More specifically, 22% are drinking more alcohol than usual and one in seven is smoking more marijuana.

Uncertainty was the top reason cited by respondents as to why they’ve been using more drugs and alcohol; no one can say when this will all be over or exactly what the world will be like in the wake of this pandemic. 

 It’s certainly understandable why so many Americans are falling back on drugs and alcohol right now, but substance abuse is never a long-term solution. The uncomfortable truth is that mental health professionals and drug counselors will likely see a big influx of patients once this pandemic has passed.

According to head researcher and UM associate professor of social work Shawna Lee, the most frequent anxiety symptoms reported by respondents included feeling tired all the time, an inability to sleep or relax, fear, and feelings of hopelessness. 

Many respondents said their depression and anxiety spiked around the time last month that the WHO officially announced recognized COVID-19 as a pandemic. A staggering 32% described depression symptoms that would qualify for a “major depression” diagnosis and 17% reported feelings of severe anxiety. At least 50% are feeling anxious almost every single day now, or at least a few days per week.

It’s virtually impossible for Americans not to feel at least a little uneasy these days. COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives in a variety of ways. In all, 98% of respondents are practicing social distancing and 82% are adhering to a lockdown at home. Life is anything but normal. 

In fact, 54% flat out said their life has been significantly disrupted. At the time the survey was conducted at the end of March, 11% of respondents already knew someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus and 27% at least knew one person who had been tested.

Close to half of all survey participants (47%) are worried about paying their bills and 53% are concerned they’ll run out of money before the end of this pandemic.

On a happier note, many Americans are also employing healthier coping strategies besides just drugs and alcohol. Close to all survey participants (96%) are doing their best to wrap their minds around and accept the situation we’re all in, and 89% are trying to be proactive every day to make their situation just a little bit better. Another 84% are trying out new activities and hobbies in an attempt to take their minds off of current events.

For those of us with a significant other, lockdown means a whole lot more time spent together, which often leads to fights. Over one in five (22%) survey respondents in a relationship reported having arguments with their partner over COVID-19. Also, 19% said they’re fighting more than usual in general. Despite the occasional disagreement, though, 71% are nonetheless feeling emotionally closer than ever before with their partner.

 That last statistic just may be the most important of all these findings. Beyond any drug or other coping mechanism, there’s no greater help through tough times than our loved ones. Even if we drive each other crazy sitting in lockdown together, the connections we share as humans are our biggest asset right now. 

The full survey can be found here