The pandemic affected many aspects of teens’ lives, including their mental health and consumption of substances such as cannabis and alcohol.
Substance use amongst teens experienced a significant drop over the past year. The results were compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in their latest Monitoring the Future survey, which considers substances like alcohol, marijuana, vaping, and others.
The survey, which has been gathering data since 1975, reflected the most significant drop in drug use in teens ever. Vaping, the most common substance consumed, experienced a significant drop among teens of different ages (from 17% of eighth-graders in 2020 to 12% in 2021, from 31% to 20% among 10th-graders, and from 35% to 27% among 12th-graders).
Despite the survey’s results, researchers believe last year’s data was atypical and heavily influenced by the pandemic and the changes in lifestyle that it forced in their lives.
“We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period. These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA.
“Moving forward, it will be crucial to identify the pivotal elements of this past year that contributed to decreased drug use — whether related to drug availability, family involvement, differences in peer pressure, or other factors — and harness them to inform future prevention efforts.”
Binge drinking and cannabis consumption didn’t reflect much change during the first six months of the pandemic, but alcohol consumption did decrease overall when compared to 2020.
An interesting finding to note was the fact that while teens reported a decline in mental health — experiencing more boredom, anxiety, depression, and loneliness — this didn’t impact their substance consumption, two factors that are usually linked together. Researchers believe this is due to the pandemic’s impact on social interactions.
Volkow spoke with CNN and explained the importance of keeping an eye on these trends, which could rapidly shift. “It is important that we go out with our eyes wide open. If we are not proactive in doing prevention, I suspect numbers in drug-taking among adolescents will go back to what they were before the emergency declaration of the pandemic,” she said. “They could even get worse because of the deterioration of mental health that puts them at risk.”