Karen Grajczyk-Haddad, Student Wellness

On this page:

The Impact of the Pandemic

Why This Assistance Is Needed

Practical Options to Use to Help You Manage the Impact of the Pandemic

Who Is This For


The Impact of the Pandemic

Substance use has a long history of being used to cope with mental health issues and coping with difficult emotions. The development, intensity and relapse of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are often impacted by biopsychosocial factors including stress and trauma (Brady & Sinha, 2005). The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the lives of people by changing their regular environments, social interactions, and activities of daily life. In addition to environmental changes, the feelings of being overwhelmed, afraid, isolated, anxious of contracting or exposing someone else to the virus can also cause people to turn to substances to numb their distress. Individuals diagnosed with substance use disorders are more likely to have suppressed immune systems, are at greater risk for respiratory infections, and may have lung and heart diseases which could present a greater risk for COVID-19 infection, or more serious cases of the disease (NIDA, 2020).

According to the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. Use of four or more drinks in a two-hour sitting for women and five or more for men is considered binge drinking. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month, which is a strong indicator of a substance use disorder. There is no moderate amount of cannabis or tobacco use supported by research.

Substance use behaviors can greatly differ from person to person based on their previous experience and trauma. Those who have already been diagnosed with a mental health disorder are at a heightened risk of using substances as a coping mechanism. A student, faculty or staff member who is noticing their increased use of alcohol use disorder due to loneliness could look very different from another in recovery from alcohol who is worried about their employment and livelihood and is at risk to relapse.

There are harmful stereotypes of drug use resulting in the fear of getting help. Those include marginalized identities including Black and Hispanic identities that are more likely to get arrested for drug violations than whites. Specifically, African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites. In addition, marginalized groups can feel further isolation due to coping with stress and pain when already feeling they do not belong. Individuals who identify as being in the LGBTQ community have higher substance use patterns compared to those reported by heterosexual adults, which can make seeking help even more vulnerable as a marginalized population.

This section will outline the vast conditions our campus will deal with in terms of substance use support for the many identities and experiences of our greater community

Explain the Specific Impacts/Exacerbations on Mental Health of Covid-19

  • Feelings of uncertainty may cause anxiety which can lead to maladaptive use of drugs & alcohol
  • Feeling uncomfortable with uncertainty, leading to helplessness, then feeling Out of Control, leading to coping with maladaptive use of drugs & alcohol
  • Lack of routine or change in typical routine of semester, may feel lack of support & motivation leading to coping with maladaptive use of drugs & alcohol

Why This Assistance Is Needed

  1. Need to provide faculty and staff resources on student support for alcohol and drug use
  2. Need to provide supervisors resources on staff support for alcohol and drug abuse
  3. Need to address boredom, lethargic concerns of students due to lack of social interaction with peers and not being able to access outlets due to social distancing

Practical Options to Use to Help You Manage the Impact of the Pandemic

  1. UI CRP, supportive network for students considering substance use change
  2. EAP, Faculty and staff resources for substance use help
  3. Strength in Numbers Recovery Ally Training through UI CRP for both students and staff beginning Fall 2020
  4. AUDIT survey, a standard screening when addressing students and staff that may be struggling.

Who This Is For

  • Students increasing substance use from previous use
  • Staff increasing substance use from previous use
  • Students relapsing from previous recovery
  • Staff relapsing from previous recovery
  • Students and staff concerned about peers dealing with substance use issues and wanting to offer support.
  • Student and staff more vulnerable with mental health disorders to use substances top cope.