Despite Pandemic Lockdowns, there has been no decrease in teen marijuana use or binge drinking.
While high school seniors in the United States report that marijuana was substantially more difficult to obtain during the epidemic, their usage of the drug remained at levels comparable to those prior to the start of school closures, a new study reveals.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States, their binge drinking also continued at a comparable pace (NIDA).
“Last year brought dramatic changes to adolescents’ lives, as many teens remained home with parents and other family members full time,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “It is remarkable that, despite this enormous shift and teens’ perceived decreases in marijuana and alcohol availability, these substances’ usage rates remained stable. This shows that minors were able to access them despite the pandemic’s hurdles and their inability to lawfully purchase them.”
The study’s primary author, Richard Miech of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues assessed the pandemic’s impact using an annual survey of substance use behaviors and attitudes among US teenagers.
Between mid-February and mid-March, the spring 2020 survey garnered responses from 3,770 pupils, but was halted early due to school closures. Between mid-July and mid-August 2020, a summer survey that could be completed outside of school was administered to 582 students.
Teens reported the greatest year-over-year declines in perceived availability of marijuana and alcohol in the survey’s 46-year history.
For marijuana, the percentage of students reporting “fairly” or “very” easy access decreased by 17 percentage points, from 76 percent in the spring before the pandemic to 59 percent. It decreased by 24 points, from 86 to 62 percent, for alcohol.
Even with perceived availability reduced, approximately 20% of students reported using marijuana in the previous month, down from 23% before to the epidemic. And 13% reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks during the epidemic, down from 17% previously.
The authors noted the widespread availability of alcohol and marijuana as a reason for their continued usage.
One activity that did significantly reduce, the study authors noticed, was vaping.
Prior to the pandemic, 24% of respondents reported vaping nicotine in the previous month, compared to 17% during the pandemic.
In all, 73% stated they could obtain a vaping device “fairly” or “very” easily prior to the epidemic, compared to 63% during the pandemic.
The researchers emphasized in an NIDA press release that the legal buying age for nicotine products and alcohol is 21 in all states, and 21 for cannabis in states that have authorized recreational use.
The fall in vaping coincided with a change in the federal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including vaping devices and liquids, scheduled for 2020. The minimum age has been increased to 21 years.
“These findings suggest that reducing adolescent substance use through attempts to restrict supply alone would be a difficult undertaking,” said Miech, the Monitoring the Future study’s lead author. “The best strategy is likely to be one that combines approaches to limit the supply of these substances with efforts to decrease demand, through educational and public health campaigns.”
The study findings were published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence on June 24.