Research & Resources

Tobacco, Alcohol, Cannabis, and Other Drug Use in the US Before and During the Early Phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether substance use prevalence among youth and adults in the early part of the pandemic (2020) differed from the pre-pandemic periods of 2018–2019 and 2016–2018. Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study, analyzing 2016–2020 data from a nationally representative sample of youth and adults in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study. The overall nationally representative 2020 sample included 7,129 youth (ages 13–17 years), 3,628 young adults (ages 18–20 years), and 8,874 adults (ages 21 years and older). Comparing 2018–2019 data to 2020 data, the prevalence of all substances used by youth declined (e.g., cannabis use declined in those ages 16–17 years from 14.9%–7.6%). The researchers proposed the declines were due to the pandemic cutting down on in-person social interaction with peers, as well as the potential for more parental oversight when families were at home together. Among young adults, the prevalence of all substances other than alcohol decreased significantly (e.g., tobacco use declined in those ages 18–20 years from 37.8%–22.8%). The researchers noted that while social changes during the COVID-19 pandemic could have affected substance use, findings should be interpreted with caution due to differences in data collection methods between 2016–2019 and 2020.

This paper, “Tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and other drug use in the US before and during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the journal JAMA network open.

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