Moderating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s and adolescents’ substance use, digital media use, and mental health: A randomized positive psychology addiction prevention program


Objective:

Previous research suggests that well-being interventions are effective in moderating substance and digital media use and improving mental health. This study evaluated the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of a school-based Positive Psychology Addiction Prevention (PPAP) intervention aimed at reducing substance and digital media use and increasing the mental health of school children during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Methods:

The sample was composed of 1,670 children and adolescents (Mean age = 12.96, SD = 2.01) from six elementary and secondary schools in Israel who were randomly assigned to the PPAP intervention (n = 833) or the waiting-list control conditions (n = 837). A three-year longitudinal repeated-measures randomized control design was used to examine modifications in substance use, digital media use, and psychological symptoms in the intervention and control groups assessed on the pre-test (before the outbreak of COVID-19, September 2019), the post-test (May 2021), and the 12-month follow-up (May 2022).


Results:

The 12-month prevalence of tobacco use, alcohol use, and cannabis use decreased significantly from the pre- to the follow-up period in the intervention group, and increased significantly in the control group. Daily digital media use increased during the pandemic period in both groups, with a significantly higher increase in the control group. The intervention group reported significantly lower psychological symptoms and negative emotions, and greater positive emotions and life satisfaction after the intervention and at follow-up compared to the control group.


Conclusions:

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted the lives of children and adolescents. Well-being and addiction prevention interventions may be effective in improving the mental health of school children during pandemics and crisis periods.

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