COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Substance Misuse : A Social Media Listening, Mixed Method Analysis

The restrictive measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic modified some previously consolidated drug use patterns. A focus on social networks allowed drug users to discuss, share opinions and provide advice during a worldwide emergency context. In order to explore COVID-19-related implications on drug trends/behaviour and on most popular psychotropic substances debated, the focus here was on the constantly updated, very popular, Reddit social platform's posts and comments. A quantitative and qualitative analysis of r/Drugs and related subreddits, using a social media listening netnographic approach, was carried out. The post/comments analysed covered the time-frame December 2019-May 2020. Between December 2019 and May 2020, the number of whole r/Drugs subreddit members increased from 619,563 to 676,581 members, respectively, thus increasing by 9.2% by the end of the data collection. Both the top-level r/Drugs subreddit and 92 related subreddits were quantitatively analysed, with posts/comments related to 12 drug categories. The drugs most frequently commented on included cannabinoids, psychedelics, opiates/opioids, alcohol, stimulants and prescribed medications. The qualitative analysis was carried out focussing on four subreddits, relating to some 1685 posts and 3263 comments. Four main themes of discussion (e.g., lockdown-associated immunity and drug intake issues; drug-related behaviour/after-quarantine plans' issues; lockdown-related psychopathological issues; and peer-to-peer advice at the time of COVID-19) and four categories of Redditors (e.g., those continuing the use of drugs despite the pandemic; the "couch epidemiologists"; the conspirationists/pseudo-science influencers; and the recovery-focused users) were tentatively identified here. A mixed-methods, social network-based analysis provided a range of valuable information on Redditors' drug use/behaviour during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further studies should be carried out focusing on other social networks as well as later phases of the pandemic.


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