Research & Resources

Substance Use Among Adolescents Pre- and During COVID-19

In this study, investigators examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic social distancing restrictions to test whether reductions in drug availability led to reductions in use. The data for the study came from the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of substance use behaviors and related attitudes among adolescents in the United States. Investigators issued a survey to 12th graders between mid-July and mid-August 2020. This summer survey followed up on investigators’ standard MTF spring survey. Despite the reported declines in marijuana and alcohol availability, the levels of use of these substances did not change significantly. Before the pandemic, 23 percent of students said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to 20 percent during the pandemic. For alcohol, 17 percent reported binge drinking in the past two weeks pre-pandemic, compared to 13 percent during the pandemic. The study authors cite the wide availability of alcohol and marijuana, even during the pandemic, as a factor in the continued use of these substances. While pandemic-related restrictions limited social interactions, and even with record-breaking decreases in perceived availability among participants, most students said they still had access to marijuana and alcohol. In addition, the authors suggest that when the substances became less available, the students may have intensified their efforts to obtain them.

This paper, “Adolescent drug use before and during U.S. national COVID-19 social distancing policies,” was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.