LONDON, ONT -- The early days of the pandemic led teens to feel increased loneliness and many also started using substances like alcohol and cannabis more, according to new research.

The research done through Huron College and King’s University College at Western University, looked at the habits of 1,000 Ontario teenagers during the start of the pandemic.

The researchers found that teens were experiencing high levels of stress and loneliness, especially among those who perceived themselves to be less popular.

In many cases teens began turning to substance use with almost half (49.3 per cent) admitting to using substances while alone.

Roughly, 31 per cent of teens said they used substances virtually with friends and nearly 25 per cent said they met with friends despite isolation orders.

The research is being published in two papers, one in the Canadian Journal of Behaviour Science and the other in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Life during social isolation is so vastly different than what teens typically experience,” said Dr. Tara Dumas, developmental psychologist and professor with Huron College.

During the early days of quarantine, 48 per cent of teens reported spending more than five hours per day on social media, and 12 per cent said they spent more than 10 hours per day.

Social media use was linked to depression amongst the teens studied, but not loneliness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, loneliness was partially offset in teens who began spending more time with parents and siblings.

“These findings highlight promising ways to ameliorate feelings of loneliness among teenagers during social isolation,” said Dr. Wendy Ellis with King’s University College.

The second paper focused on substance use – and while teen’s frequency of substance use had increased, binge drinking or cannabis use had not.

“It’s important, I think, for parents to be aware if their teens are using substances alone, it may be a sign they are struggling with COVID-related fears or depressive symptoms,” said Dumas.