COVID is Creating a Drug Problem in Youth


Created By Tizazu Alemu

Tizazu Alemu (He/Him), Senior, Staffer

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health has become a critical problem for young people and adolescents. Some of the common mental health disorders that affect school-going children include hyperactivity disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia, among others that can occur from academic-related stress. Additionally, mental health problems are often linked to other health and behavioral issues, including drug use, increased violence, and risky sexual behaviors. These risks increase the risk of drug use in teenagers and lead to many students getting put in situations they can’t handle. 

       Students across Washington state are aware that mental health is the primary cause of the increased drug abuse among high school students. Furthermore, students with mental health issues often face barriers to learning. They engage in risky behaviors, including drug abuse, making it difficult for them to graduate from high school. Fortunately, some prevention strategies, such as advocating and promoting mental health among high school students, such as enabling them to feel connected to family and the school, are instrumental in preventing various negative experiences, including violence and drug abuse.  Further, enhancing solid bonds and relationships with high school students in the school, at home, and in the community provides them with a sense of connectedness.

     “Substance use among adolescents can impact brain development and may also increase the risk of addiction and poor academic results in school,” Tri Ngo said. A study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Services found that approximately 20% of 10th-grade students consume alcohol, while about 17% of the students smoke marijuana. Students using different drugs tend to report lower school grades than individuals who do not use those substances in most cases.

     Because of the dangers of drug abuse among school-going students, numerous interventions have been implemented to offer the necessary support to vulnerable individuals. Programs have also been put in place to support students with drug-use problems.

      “Lack of social support for high school students results in increased stress, and affected students are likely to start abusing drugs as a way to manage and overcome the stress,” Agustin Gregorio said.  To minimize the abuse of alcohol and other drugs across Washington state, the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR) established the community prevention and wellness initiative to stop adolescent substance use. Furthermore, the Student Assistance Prevention-Intervention Services Program (SAP ISP) in Washington state focuses on facilitating and building safe school environments and enhancing healthy childhood development by discouraging and minimizing the use of alcohol and other drugs among teens. Most critically, the student assistance program in Washington state contributes to promoting the transition back to school for students who have drug abuse problems and offers assistance in referrals to treatment providers. The program further provides other services such as consultations with parents and school staff and screening high-risk behaviors.

    The  Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in significant disruptions in student’s life. This can be attributed to the extreme measures that the government implemented to contain the spread of the virus. These measures included school closure, gaps in access to health care, and social isolation. The last of them makes it impossible for students to meet with their friends. As a result, parents have reported the increase of mental health conditions in their children throughout the pandemic period. Immediately after the pandemic outbreak, children’s mental and emotional well-being worsened, and this is exhibited by the increased cases of irritability, fear, and anxiety, among others. The mental health situation among the teenagers deteriorated because of a lack of timely care; this resulted in increased feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Such negative thoughts facilitated undesirable practices, including drinking alcohol and abuse of other substances, including marijuana.

     “The social distancing policies implemented by the government and the stay-at-home orders made me feel lonely after being isolated from my friends for too long,” Tri said. The feeling of being disconnected from the classmates during the pandemic is also linked to health issues such as depression, fear, and anxiety that, if left unmanaged, can put the learners at risk of substance abuse.

     Most significantly, being a student may become stressful because individuals must juggle school work and undertake other responsibilities, including personal cleanness, making it harder for the learners. In most cases, the most common forms of mental health among high school students include anxiety and stress-related disorders. If left untreated and without counseling, individuals experience long-reaching issues, including reduced academic performance, lack of concentration, poor judgment, and impaired memory. Besides, mental instability can facilitate agitation and inability to relax, enabling laziness and self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs. Interventions have been implemented in schools to safeguard the students’ mental health. According to E. Collier’s publication, How Can Schools Promote Positive Mental Health? Some of these interventions include having mental health professionals work in the school compound; this makes it easy for the learners to access counseling and other metal-based mental services required to overcome exam pressures and other come technology dependence such as social media, which make it impossible to concentrate in school. Moreover, shared responsibility with parents and the community helps promote early prevention of mental health among the learners, which helps keep the learners safe by preventing incidents that would promote substance use.

    “My school has introduced programs where all students are taught the dangers of abusing various substances. Most importantly, students are taught how they can manage and prevent some mental health issues such as academic-related stress by avoiding procrastination in undertaking schoolwork; this ensures work assignments are completed within time,” Agustin said. In this regard, it has also become fundamental to make sure that students understand the importance of reporting mental health challenges to relevant parties, including parents and teachers, to commence treatment and reduce the chances of indulging in substance use.