Adult drug use spiked due to the pandemic but teens didn’t follow suit

Published Feb 1, 2023 10:00 a.m. ET
Unsplash / Mike Von

We’ve all seen the headlines boasting significant increases in adult cannabis use during the pandemic, but according to a new study, teenagers used fewer substances including cannabis throughout the widespread lockdowns implemented to slow the transmission of COVID-19.

Accidental cannabis consumption by children jumped a staggering 1375% over the last five years. However, cannabis, alcohol, binge drinking, and other drug use by legal-aged adults stayed the same or increased when compared to the two years prior to COVID-19. At the same time, between 2019 and 2020 substance use by those aged 13 to 20 years old.

These declines were not recorded in older consumers in any categories other than tobacco use, and individuals aged 25 and older used significantly more cannabis.

Teen use

The study looked at data taken from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Heath, which tracks tobacco and other substances being used by 49 000 individuals considered to be youths or teenagers.

The study analyzed data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study, which follows tobacco and other substance use over time among 49,000 US youths and adults.

Substance use in general dropped significantly among teenagers aged 13 to 15, by a total of 3.4 percentage points in 2020 compared to the previous two years, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open

Cannabis use dropped in teenagers between ages 13 and 17, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open. At the same time, the use of illegally obtained drugs including prescription drugs also decreased by approximately 2.5 percentage points among teens.

Marijuana use increased in adults and dropped in teens

Teenagers aged 16 and 17 years old used 7.3% less cannabis in 2020 than they did in 2019 and 2018. Tobacco use also fell by 10 whole points, while misuse of other substances lowered by 3 percentage points during that same amount of time. Binge drinking fell by an impressive  1.6 percentage points among teens.


Young adults drank more

Alcohol use by young adults aged 21 to 24 years old increased by 5 percentage points (rising from 60.2% to 65.2%) in 2020 when compared to 2018 and 2019. However, binge drinking which has long been problematic for this age group decreased by 2.2 points. At the same time, tobacco use fell by approximately 8 percentage points, while cannabis use and the consumption of other illegal or prescription drugs didn’t budge enough to be notable, according to the study.

Mature adults used more cannabis

Cannabis use among mature adults aged 25 and above went up ever so slightly by 1.2 percentage points, and there were no notable decreases in this age group in terms of other substances.

Young adults used less tobacco

The use of tobacco among adults aged 18-20 decreased substantially in 2020 when compared to 2019 and 2018, by a little more than 15 percentage points. Those aged 21 and up also dropped over the same period by 8 percentage points.

Did the trend hold?

A completely different study conducted in 2022 titled Monitoring the Future Study found that consumers ages 19-30 were using more cannabis and hallucinogens. Those results also showed that approximately 11% of people in that age group used cannabis on a daily basis in 2021 while 43% reported using it at the same frequency in 2022.

Post legalization youth cannabis crime rates drop


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