Study: Substance Use Disorders Possibly Linked to COVID-19

The types of SUDs investigated were tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis, and cocaine.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) were more likely than those without a SUD to develop coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In addition, those with a SUD diagnosis were more likely to experience worse COVID-19 outcomes than those without a SUD, according to a press release.

“The lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in people with SUD, which may partially explain their heightened susceptibility to COVID-19,” said study co-author Nora Volkow, MD, in a press release. “Another contributing factor is the marginalization of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access health care services. It is incumbent upon clinicians to meet the unique challenges of caring for this vulnerable population, just as they would any other high-risk group.”

Data for the analysis were collected until June 15, 2020, from 360 hospitals across the nation. The study consisted of more than 73 million patients, of whom over 7.5 million had been diagnosed with a SUD at some point in their lives, according to the study authors.

Further, more than 12,000 were diagnosed with COVID-19, and approximately 1880 had both a SUD and a COVID-19 diagnosis on record. The types of SUDs investigated were tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis, and cocaine.

The complicating effects of SUD were visible in increased adverse consequences of COVID-19, as hospitalizations and death rates of COVID-19 patients were all elevated in people with recorded SUDs compared to those without.

In addition, African Americans with a recent opioid use disorder diagnosis were more than 4 times as likely to develop COVID-19 compared to whites. The data showed that hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and renal diseases were more prevalent among African Americans than whites with opioid use disorder, according to the study authors.

The findings of the study underscore the need to screen for and treat SUDs as a part of the strategy for controlling the pandemic. The study authors said that additional research is needed to better understand how best to treat those with SUDs who are at risk for COVID-19 and how best to provide counseling to avoid the risk of infection.


Substance use disorders linked to COVID-19 susceptibility. NIH. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed September 14, 2020.

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