Research & Resources

Trends in Young Adult Alcohol and Cannabis Use Through the First 1.5 Years of the COVID-19 Pandemic from a Community Cohort Sample

In this study, researchers followed a young adult community cohort throughout the first 1.5 years of the COVID-19 pandemic to examine longer-term trends and trajectories, instead of cross-sectional or short-term data collected early in the pandemic, to determine the impact of the pandemic on alcohol and cannabis use behaviors. Before the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020), 656 young adults completed up to eight surveys on substance use and other behaviors, which extended through August 2021. Using growth models, the researchers estimated changes in alcohol and cannabis use in three segments: (a) from pre-pandemic to April 2020; (b) from April 2020 to September/October 2020; and (c) from September/October 2020 to July/August 2021. Abstainers were removed from the analyses. The researchers found that drinking frequency increased in the first segment (3 percent per month), decreased in the second segment (4 percent per month), and plateaued in the final segment. Drinking quantity significantly decreased in all three segments: 4 percent per month in the first segment, 3 percent per month in the second segment, and 1 percent per month in the final segment. Cannabis frequency and quantity showed no significant changes across the first two segments, but significantly decreased in the final segment (frequency decreased by 3 percent per month and quantity decreased by 6 percent per month). The significant changes for cannabis frequency and quantity were moderated by age, such that older participants had steeper decreases in the final segment. These findings showed that young adult alcohol and cannabis use generally declined across the first 1.5 years of the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to widespread concerns.

This paper, “Trends in young adult alcohol and cannabis use through the first 1.5 years of the COVID-19 pandemic from a community cohort sample,” was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and published in the Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs.

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