The Empty Chair

Substance Abuse and the Impact of the COVID Pandemic

Although the COVID pandemic has rightly occupied most of the news in the past year, it must not be forgotten that the ravages of substance dependence are still with us and still destroying the lives of young people and their families around the country. Tweens, teens, and young adults are alone with little or no socialization, and virtual- and/or home-schooling

A New York Times article on January 4, 2021 said that “addiction is often referred to as a disease of isolation, and overcoming that challenge has only become more difficult during a pandemic that has forced people indoors — in some cases to live lonely lives, with drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the stress. Several studies have shown that binge drinking has increased during the pandemic, and a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited a “concerning acceleration” of opioid-related overdoses this year. At the same time, many treatment centers have closed down or limited in-person visits.”1 

Opioids are perhaps the most deadly of the enemy substances, but cocaine, alcohol, and a new entry into the war – vaping (or e-cigarettes) – are threatening the health and the lives of young people across the country.
Stanford researchers found from data collected in May 2020 that teenagers and young adults who vape face a much higher risk of COVID-19 infection than their peers who do not vape.2 Drug deaths in America, which fell for the first time in 25 years in 2018, rose to record numbers in 2019 and are continuing to climb, a resurgence that is being complicated and perhaps worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.3

How do these times draw a student to seek drugs, alcohol, etc., even if they’ve never done so? How do these realities impact the student trying not to do drugs or trying to stop using drugs or alcohol?

On Sunday, March 21 at 4:00 pm, PMTC’s Educational Outreach Program will be staging a live-on-Zoom production on the effects of the COVID pandemic on adolescent and young adult substance abuse. The March production will feature a short play, THE EMPTY CHAIR, directed by Laurie T. Freed and followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of experts. The panel discussion will be facilitated by PMTC Board member Catherine Gallagher. Watch for more details in upcoming newsletters.

1.The pandemic has hit addiction recovery hard. New York Times January 4, 2021.
2.Vaping linked to COVID-19 risk in teens and young adults. Stanford Medicine News Center. August 11, 2020. 
3.In shadow of pandemic, U.S. drug overdose deaths resurge to record. New York Times July 15, 2020.