The COVID-19 pandemic changed kids' lives in many respects, and sometimes for the better. Pot use, drinking, smoking and vaping all fell among U.S. youth, likely because they had to spend more time at home and less time with their friends, researchers say.
The findings are based on an analysis of 49 studies.
"One of the driving factors for youth substance use is access to substances," said study co-author Hannah Layman, a social and behavioral sciences doctoral student at West Virginia University.
"With stay-at-home orders, virtual schooling and social distancing, children have been spending more time with family and are more socially isolated from peers than before. Although social isolation from peers may have a negative impact on their mental health, it may just be one of the desirable outcomes of the pandemic when considering substance use in children," Layman explained in a university news release.
It's common for teens and preteens to want to try new things with their peers. When it comes to substances, teens have easy access to pot, tobacco, alcohol and vaping, and regard them as less serious than "hard drugs," according to Layman and colleagues.
The study authors said further research is needed to assess the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth substance use, including among those at high-risk and of different genders.
Previous studies have shown an increase in substance use among U.S. youth, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods or in difficult family circumstances.
"Substance use can affect a young person's body in many ways, such as the development of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, conduct problems, personality disorders and suicidal thoughts), injuries due to accidents, decreased bone mineral density, preventing proper brain growth and function, delayed puberty, liver damage and so much more," Layman said.
Increased parent or caregiver supervision can help prevent substance use problems in youth, Layman said. She also recommends early intervention, education about the dangers of substance use and providing a good example.
"Our findings also identified the importance of improving youth mental health and the value of telemedicine to address young people's health needs during the pandemic," she said.
The study results were recently published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports.
There's more on teen substance use and risks at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: University of West Virginia, news release, June 15, 2022