Factsheet

Mental health and alcohol/drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic

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This resource has undergone expert review.

Year:
Year 7–8, Year 9–10, Year 11–12
Origin

Australian

Cost

Free

Introduction

The past year has been challenging for Australians with the bushfires at the start of 2020, followed by ongoing stress and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These unfortunate events have disrupted our regular routines, schooling, and sporting activities, and limited the time we spend with family and friends. Many of us have felt sad, worried, or uncertain about the future, and these concerns are certainly very normal and understandable given the events of the past year.

During stressful times everyone copes differently. If you are feeling sad, worried, or uncertain, it is important to talk about it and reach out for support.

Getting support

Many people feel stressed, worried, panicky, hopeless, or distressed at some point in their lives. It is important that you know there is effective support available to help you through difficult times. No one needs to face their problems alone.

It is important to talk to a trusted adult, friend or family member about the things that are worrying you. It might help to speak with a professional, like a school counsellor, GP (doctor) or psychologist. This video series explains the type of help a youth worker, school counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can provide.

Other places you can go to for help include:

You can find a full list on where to get help on this page.

Looking after your mental health

It is important that we actively look after our mental health, particularly during times of increased difficulty or stress. There are several practical strategies you can use in your everyday life to keep on top of your mental health. The strategies listed below are effective for promoting wellbeing and mental health, and are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) strategies that focus on the way we think (i.e. cognition) and what we do (i.e. behaviour).

Click the headings below for tips on looking after your mental health.

Get a good night's sleep

  • Aim for 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Sleep can be affected during times of stress. To help you get to sleep and stay asleep, follow good sleep hygiene practices. These include limiting screen time and caffeine before bed, ensuring your bedroom is quiet, dark and a comfortable temperature, and doing moderate exercise such as walking or swimming late in the afternoon.
  • If you struggle to fall asleep, try relaxing your muscle groups one at a time and focus on taking slow deep breaths. Click here for access to free guided relaxation exercises provided by Beyond Blue.
  • Waking up at a similar time each day helps you sleep better at night.
  • Getting enough sleep supports your wellbeing because it can help improve your energy levels, concentration, academic performance, and mood.

Schedule time with family and friends

  • When physical catch-ups with family and friends are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s important to socially connect via alternate means, such as video calling, phoning or texting. Virtual time with friends and family can boost your mood and help overcome feelings of loneliness.

Take a break and schedule some fun

  • It may seem like everywhere you look (e.g. social media, chats with friends) there is bad news and talk of the pandemic. While it is important to stay informed, limit the amount of time you spend thinking, watching, reading, or talking about the pandemic.
  • Make an effort to schedule something that you will find fun every day. Depending on the current restrictions, you might have to get creative! It can be something simple, like listening to a song that makes you feel like dancing or playing an online game with a friend.
  • Deliberately doing something fun (even when you are not in the mood for it) has proven long-term benefits for your mental wellbeing.

Move your body

  • Getting active and exercising is great for your body as well as your mind. Exercise can improve your mood and helps lower stress and symptoms of anxiety.
  • Find a type of physical activity you enjoy doing such as swimming, yoga, or a team sport. Remember - with any physical activity, being consistent is important in order to see the positive effects.

Keep a thoughts and feelings diary

  • The way we think about events affects the way we feel. During tough times, our thinking can become focussed on imagining all the potential worst-case scenarios. Thinking like this can leave us feeling overwhelmed and scared.
  • Writing down what you are worried or sad about can help clear your head. Seeing your thoughts on paper can also help you identify whether your thoughts are overly negative or focussed on unlikely, worst-case scenarios. If you see that your thoughts have a negative focus, try re-phrasing them to take a more balanced or realistic view of the situation.

Talk it through

  • It can really help to talk through your concerns or worries with a trusted friend or family member to help you gain a different perspective. Choose someone who is calm and supportive.
  • If you find you are struggling with negative thoughts or worries, reach out for support. Effective help is available and can make a big difference.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol

  • Alcohol and other drugs can have a negative impact on your mental health. In view of the mental and physical health consequences, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that “young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.”.
  • In line with this recommendation, more and more young Australians are choosing not to use alcohol and other drugs. The majority of secondary school students don’t drink alcohol (73%), don’t smoke (82%), and have never tried cannabis (92%) or other drugs (98%).

Further information and resources

For more information about how to apply these and other strategies to support your emotional wellbeing during times of stress and uncertainty, check out these guided workbooks, factsheets, and courses:

Guided workbooks and Factsheets:

Courses:

Alcohol and other drug use during stressful times

Like many aspects of our lives, alcohol and drug use in Australia has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the periods of lockdown or isolation. Among people who use alcohol and drugs, many have reduced their use during the pandemic, while some others have increased.

For some people, using alcohol or other drugs may be a response to the worries and stress experienced during tough times. This can end up making people feel worse. Apart from the unpleasant physical effects, like a hangover, using alcohol and drugs can lead to bigger problems with your health, family, friends, study, and work. Using alcohol and drugs as a coping strategy also prevents people from learning other ways to manage low mood or anxiety. There is also a risk of becoming dependent on (i.e., addicted to) alcohol or other drugs.

Using alcohol and other drugs can affect the way your brain develops and contribute to the development of mental health disorders including depression and anxiety. Many symptoms of depression and anxiety become worse when alcohol or other drugs are used. Alcohol and other drugs can negatively affect:

  • Mood e.g. low mood and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Sleep e.g. difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and increased daytime sleepiness.
  • Concentration e.g. shorter attention span and poorer memory.
  • Energy levels e.g. lethargy and low energy.

To learn more about the impact of alcohol, cannabis and MDMA use on the teenage brain check out these videos.

Signs that a person may benefit from professional support

Some of the warning signs that a person may need professional support for an alcohol or other drug problem include:

  • Using more or seeming less affected by the same amount of the alcohol/drug.
  • Finding it difficult to use less or go without the alcohol/drug.
  • Fights or relationship problems with friends or family due to alcohol/drug use.
  • Feeling worried about alcohol/drug use or its impact on you.
  • Family or friends are concerned about alcohol/drug use.

Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney. A full list of sources which informed this factsheet can be seen below.

Sources

  1. Edinger JD, Means MK, Carney CE, Manber R. Chapter 80 - Psychological and Behavioral Treatments for Insomnia II: Implementation and Specific Populations. In: Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, editors. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (Fifth Edition). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders; 2011. p. 884-904.
  2. Gosch EA, Flannery-Schroeder E, Mauro CF, Compton SN. Principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders in Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 2006;20(3):247-62.
  3. Quante M, Khandpur N, Kontos EZ, Bakker JP, Owens JA, Redline S. “Let's talk about sleep”: a qualitative examination of levers for promoting healthy sleep among sleep-deprived vulnerable adolescents. Sleep Medicine. 2019;60:81-8.
  4. Ellis WE, Dumas TM, Forbes LM. Physically isolated but socially connected: Psychological adjustment and stress among adolescents during the initial COVID-19 crisis. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. 2020;52(3):177-87.
  5. Cuijpers P, van Straten A, Warmerdam L. Behavioral activation treatments of depression: a meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2007;27(3):318-26.
  6. Sampasa-Kanyinga H, Colman I, Goldfield GS, Janssen I, Wang J, Podinic I, et al. Combinations of physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep duration and their associations with depressive symptoms and other mental health problems in children and adolescents: a systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2020;17(1):72.
  7. Larun L, Nordheim LV, Ekeland E, Hagen KB, Heian F. Exercise in prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression among children and young people. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2006(3).
  8. Reivich K, Gillham J. Building resilience in youth: the Penn Resiliency Program. Communique. 2010 March-April.
  9. National Health and Medical Reserach Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol 2020 [cited 2021. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol.
  10. Guerin N, White V. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances. In: Victoria CC, editor. Second Edition ed2020.
  11. Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M, Sollis K. Alcohol consumption during the COVID19 period: May 2020 Australian National University; 2020.
  12. Gobbi G, Atkin T, Zytynski T, Wang S, Askari S, Boruff J, et al. Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(4):426-34.
  13. Bahorik AL, Leibowitz A, Sterling SA, Travis A, Weisner C, Satre DD. The role of hazardous drinking reductions in predicting depression and anxiety symptom improvement among psychiatry patients: A longitudinal study. J Affect Disord. 2016;206:169-73.
  14. Marmorstein NR. Sleep patterns and problems among early adolescents: Associations with alcohol use. Addict Behav. 2017;66:13-6.
  15. Short M, A., Gradisar M, Lack L, C., Wright H, R. The impact of sleep on adolescent depressed mood, alertness and academic performance. Journal of Adolescence. 2013;36(6):1025-33.
  16. Pihl RO, Paylan SS, Gentes-Hawn A, Hoaken PNS. Alcohol Affects Executive Cognitive Functioning Differentially on the Ascending Versus Descending Limb of the Blood Alcohol Concentration Curve. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2003;27(5):773-9.
  17. Hiller-Sturmhöfel S, Swartzwelder HS. Alcohol’s Effects on the Adolescent Brain: What Can Be Learned From Animal Models. Alcohol Res Health. 2004;28(4):213-21.
  18. Prat G, Adan A, Sánchez-Turet M. Alcohol hangover: a critical review of explanatory factors. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2009;24(4):259-67.
  19. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC2013.
Page last reviewed: 21/01/2021

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