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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Adolescent Marijuana, Alcohol Use Held Steady During Pandemic

Three young women sit on a couch, drink coffee with each and laugh

Adolescent marijuana use and binge drinking did not significantly change during the pandemic, MTF finds.


Adolescent marijuana use and binge drinking did not significantly change during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite record decreases in the substances’ perceived availability, according to a survey of 12th graders in the U.S. The NIDA-funded research was led by investigators at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

The study’s findings, published in June’s Drug and Alcohol Dependence, challenge the idea that reducing adolescent use of drugs can be achieved solely by limiting their supply.

“It is striking that…usage rates held steady for these substances,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow. “This indicates that teens were able to obtain them despite barriers caused by the pandemic and despite not being of age to legally purchase them.”

The legal purchase age is 21 for nicotine products and alcohol in all states and for cannabis in states that have legalized nonmedical cannabis use. 

In contrast to consistent rates of marijuana and alcohol use, nicotine vaping in high school seniors declined during the pandemic, along with declines in perceived availability of vaping devices. Raising the federal minimum age for tobacco, including vaping, products from 18 to 21 in early 2020 may have contributed to this dip in vaping use. News reports on vaping-induced lung injuries may have also had a chilling effect on usage.

The data for the study came from the annual Monitoring the Future survey of substance use behaviors and related attitudes among adolescents. In a typical year, MTF surveys thousands of middle and high school students at more than 100 schools across the country.

Investigators issued surveys during early spring and summer 2020. Analysis of the responses revealed that students perceived a sharp decrease in availability of marijuana and alcohol in the months after the onset of the pandemic. The survey revealed the largest year-to-year decreases in perceived availability of marijuana and alcohol ever recorded since the survey began in 1975.

While pandemic-related restrictions limited social interactions, most students said they still had access to marijuana and alcohol.

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