Excessive alcohol use costs the US an estimated $249 billion each year. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected young people in ways that may increase their risk for heavy alcohol use.
- Some risk factors for alcohol use (e.g., less access to friends, fewer social gatherings) have been reduced during the pandemic, yet others have increased. These include:,,
- reduced social support
- lack of parental supervision
- increased family stress
- poor academic achievement
- increased parental alcohol use
- limited access to mental health support
- Early alcohol use increases risk for experiencing other difficulties, (e.g., school failure/dropout, blackouts, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy, etc.) and developing long-term problems (e.g., alcohol use disorder), which results in greater costs.
- Reduced access to mental health services, coupled with increased need, will likely increase long-term risks.
Among college students:
- The majority report decreased alcohol use,,, likely due to less socializing.,,
- Once social restrictions are lifted, however, it is likely there will be a dangerous rebound effect, with more risky behavior.
- A subset (~20% of those surveyed) report drinking more,, indicating heightened risk for the development of problems.
- The majority (~65-80% of those surveyed) report that their mental health has suffered since the start of the pandemic.,,
- Negative impacts were more pronounced among disadvantaged students (e.g., low-income, people of color, LGBTQ+[a], caregivers), which increases their risk for higher alcohol use.
- Invest in tele-mental health and addiction services to ensure accessibility of services even as states and universities reopen.
- Invest in evidence-based prevention programming (e.g., Life Skills Training; BASICS).
- Increase funding for school- and university-based mental health services to support:
- Accessible, evidence-based mental health and substance use intervention;
- The hiring of diverse practitioners to better serve a diverse population[b]; and
- A sufficient number of staff to enhance availability of and access to support.
- Increase providers’ ability to offer mental health and substance use treatment services by:
- Protecting and expanding Medicare reimbursement rates;
- Reimbursing licensed providers for tele-mental health and substance use services; and
- Encouraging interstate reciprocity so marginalized patients and/or patients with specialized needs (particularly those from rural/low resource areas) have increased access to therapists with relevant expertise and lived experiences.
a. LGBTQ+ refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, or any other sexual orientation or gender identity (e.g., pansexual, Two-Spirit).
b. Diversity can refer to race, gender identity, sexuality, primary language, etc.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy. https://www.cdc.gov/features/costsofdrinking/ Updated January 2016. Accessed April 21, 2017.
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- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Consequences of youth substance abuse. https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/drugid/ration-03.html
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- Course Hero & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2020). Student wellness during COVID-19: What role do universities play in supporting their students? https://marketplace.collegepulse.com/img/student_wellness_collegepulse_final.pdf
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- Spit for Science, The VCU Student Survey Fall COVID-19 Survey. https://spit4science.vcu.edu/
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