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Adolescent Substance Use and the Pandemic

Scott LaFee on

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 federal survey of high school seniors in the United States.

Analyses of responses from 3,770 high school seniors surveyed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students perceived a sharp decrease in availability of marijuana and alcohol in the months after the onset of the pandemic. For marijuana, the fraction of students who reported "fairly" or "very" easy access dropped by 17 percentage points, from 76% in the spring before the pandemic to 59% during the pandemic, and for alcohol, it dropped from 86% to 62%.

Despite the reported declines in marijuana and alcohol availability, the levels of use of these substances did not change significantly. Before the pandemic, 23% of students said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to 20% during the pandemic. For alcohol, 17% reported binge drinking in the past two weeks pre-pandemic, compared to 13% during the pandemic.

However, there was a moderate and significant decrease in nicotine vaping. Before the pandemic, 24% of respondents said they had vaped nicotine in the past 30 days, compared to 17% during the pandemic.

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