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Canalside Chronicles

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Canalside Chronicles

A second chance
May 7, 2024

Epidemic Within a Pandemic

How Rochester’s Substance Abuse Problems Have Spread to Colleges

Image courtesy of Getty Images

(Brockport, N.Y.) The COVID-19 Pandemic has been raging on in the United States since the end of 2019, and it has impacted every single person in a myriad of ways. However, a new destructive force has been brewing behind the scenes, and it may be aimed at local college students: substance abuse.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but a lot of the people I know have turned to coping with alcohol or weed especially,” said a local Brockport student, who wishes to use the pseudonym Mike in order to remain anonymous.

“I was a big party guy before the pandemic, so stuff like alcohol and weed I was already familiar with. But now I’ve been noticing I’ve been drinking more, and since the start of the pandemic I’ve been smoking weed almost daily,” Mike said.

Sharon Cerasoli, a Social Worker who works for Rochester General Hospital

Sharon Cerasoli, a social worker who works in the emergency department at Rochester General Hospital, says her job has gotten busier due to the pandemic.

“I can personally attest that over the last 18 months, there has been a steep rise in cases of depression and anxiety, and similarly, a rise in cases of substance abuse,” said Cerasoli. Cerasoli has been on the job for 39 years and says that because of the pandemic, college-aged adults are indulging in substances more than ever before. 

This is because of unique factors that have stemmed from the pandemic. Factors like social distancing, societal pressure, and wildly changing times are all taking a toll on college students, according to Mike.

“My anxiety has skyrocketed due to all my responsibilities becoming increasingly more complicated and negative. I can’t see my Grandma, I have to follow special guidelines at work that make even the simplest things twice as hard, and as an extrovert, the intense year of social distancing I had to do and sudden re-introduction to everything feels like too much,” said Mike.

Cerasoli herself has seen many people with Mike’s predicament.

“College-aged kids already have great expectations placed on them, and are expected to be as flexible as possible for some to make ends meet. This led to some already being on the edge, but the pandemic tipped them over” said Cerasoli.

Cerasoli also adds that it can be “more than just a joint and a beer.” Cerasoli says that she’s seeing a rise in harder drug use like cocaine, heroin, and crack among all demographics.

“I find from personal experience that it’s the younger adults who end up dying more than the older ones,” said Cerasoli.

The numbers back up Cerasoli’s claim. According to data from a large poll from the CDC, at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom as a result of the COVID pandemic was reported by 73% of participants who are aged 18-24 years old. Additionally, 13% of the participants have reported an increase in substance use to cope.

Graphic sourced from the CDC

According to Cerasoli however, that’s only just reported cases.

“In college communities and suburbs (reporting) tends to be more hidden because of the whole stigma around (drug use),” said Cerasoli.

The stigma around drug use and abuse may actually be decreasing overall due to the pandemic. According to an article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, more of an effort is being made to combat substance use disorder among younger adults due to a rise in actual reporting of cases.

“I think the stigma around people who have substance problems, possibly because of more exposure with people who have these problems, is changing for the better,” said Cerasoli

.“I’ve definitely noticed that it’s maybe been easier to talk about things,” said Mike, “but things won’t get better until everything gets better. For now, I’ll just battle my demons one day at a time.”

According to Cerasoli, if someone has been battling with mental health and/or substance abuse, help may be right around the corner.

“Rochester Regional Health has a behavioral center that allows walk-in appointments 7 days a week, 9 AM to 9 PM. There are also a ton of community support based agencies such as Recovery Fitness Liberty Resources, and Recovery Always.”

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