Mental stress: drug consumption increased during the pandemic

According to the survey, more than a quarter of those surveyed (26 percent) felt psychologically stressed. 19 percent stated that they were physically stressed. The economic or financial burden (22 percent) was also at a high level.

In general, women reported a higher level of psychological stress than men, as shown by the study carried out by the Institute for Social Aesthetics and Mental Health at the Sigmund Freud Private University in Vienna entitled “Doping in Everyday Life”. The experts wanted to shed light on the influence of the psychological stress factors caused by the pandemic on drug consumption.

Mentally challenged people take far more medication

“If you look at the group of people who stated that they felt psychologically stressed by the Covid 19 pandemic, there was a significantly greater increase in the use of painkillers. Mentally stressed people take painkillers about twice as often as those who do not see themselves as mentally stressed,” said Wolfgang Preinsperger, Medical Director at the Anton Proksch Institute. “A similar result can be seen with sedatives and sleeping pills. Stimulants are taken about three to four times more often by people with mental stress than by those who are not.”

The study also showed: In addition to the actual effect of the respective substance class, indirect effects play a major role as a motive for taking them. For example, painkillers are also used for self-treatment of depressive symptoms.

stimulants and tranquilizers

Stimulant substances have been taken by four percent of those surveyed since the beginning of the pandemic. 38 percent of those taking stimulants experienced an increase in consumption and 24 percent saw a decrease in consumption. Adolescents and young adults up to the age of 30 take stimulating substances almost twice as often as older people (nine percent).

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16 percent of those surveyed stated that they had taken benzodiazepines, i.e. drugs used as sleeping pills or tranquilizers, at least once during the pandemic. There is a clear increase in consumption here: 48 percent of people who take sedatives experienced an increase, while only seven percent saw a decrease. It is most common among adolescents and young adults up to the age of 30.

It is particularly striking that people with frequently changing work hours stated that they took benzodiazepines almost twice as often as those with regular ones (65 percent versus 38 percent). According to the experts, it can be assumed that in these cases sleep disorders are “treated” with benzodiazepines. However, the short-term alleviation of sleep problems is offset by long-term negative effects such as sleep disorders and the development of dependencies.

Younger people take more painkillers

Almost half (45 percent) of those surveyed said they had taken painkillers at least once since the pandemic began. Consumption behavior does not appear to have changed during the pandemic, but it has been shown that younger people report taking painkillers much more frequently than older people.

Almost a third of the painkiller users take them several times a week, although first-generation migrants are about twice as likely as people without a migration background or second-generation migrants born in Austria. Eleven percent of Austrians take more painkillers than prescribed by a doctor. For first-generation migrants, this figure rises to 33 percent.

Everyday doping with coffee, tobacco and alcohol

But everyday doping, which includes the obligatory morning coffee, the cigarette before work, the espresso in the afternoon break or even the glass of wine to relax on the couch in the evening, has increased. Almost every Austrian consumes caffeinated drinks and food. In 2019, three quarters of the adult population consumed alcohol at least once. Almost half of those surveyed take dietary supplements. A quarter of Austrians smoke at least occasionally.

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Unclear data in drug dependence

An estimated 150,000 Austrians are drug dependent. Due to the presumably very high number of unreported cases, the actual number is much higher, with estimates of up to 300,000 people. “It is difficult to give an exact figure because drug dependency, like no other addiction, takes place in secret and those affected remain socially inconspicuous for a very long time,” says Preinsperger.

While the scientific literature on alcohol or drug addiction is very extensive, there are hardly any research results on drug addiction – a data gap that the present study aims to help fill. In the first part of the study, the representative sample of 1,000 people was surveyed by telephone through the Gallup Institute Austria. In an additional survey in October 2021, the pandemic-related consumption and everyday doping trends were then specifically examined by means of an online survey. The study has not yet been published.

WHO: A quarter more depression

The World Health Organization (WHO) also reported a sharp increase in some mental illnesses on Friday when it presented its new report on mental health. Cases of depression and anxiety disorders rose by 25 percent worldwide in the first year of the pandemic alone.

According to the WHO, almost a billion people worldwide are living with a mental illness. This number is from 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. Almost every eighth person was affected. People with severe mental disorders die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, the report said.

Mental health long neglected

“Mental health goes hand in hand with physical health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Investing in mental health is investing in a better life and future for everyone.” Mental health has been neglected for decades, the report said. All countries must do more to help those affected.

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Some of the main causes of depression are childhood sexual abuse, bullying or bullying. This must be actively counteracted: through social services, support for families with problems and programs for social and emotional learning in schools. Social and economic inequalities, wars, the climate crisis and health threats – like a pandemic – are risks that contribute to mental illness.

Poorer people most at risk

The WHO defines a mental illness as a significant disturbance in a person’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior, usually associated with stress or impairment in important areas of functioning.

In many countries, those affected are still excluded, the WHO reported. It is important to include people with mental illnesses in all aspects of social life in order to counteract this.

In all countries, the risk of mental illness is greatest among the poorest people, who are also the least likely to be treated. Even in developed countries, only a third of people with depression are treated by professionals.



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