Fewer Young Adults Drinking, But More Smoking Weed

Fewer college-age Americans drink alcohol, compared to nearly 20 years ago, according to a new study. Between 2002 and 2018, the number of adults aged 18-22 in the U.S. who abstained from alcohol increased from 20 percent to 28 percent for those in college and from about 24 percent to 30 percent for those not in school, say researchers at the University of Michigan and Texas State University. And alcohol abuse among both groups decreased by roughly half. However, the study found that the number of young adults using marijuana, as well as co-using alcohol and marijuana, has increased.

Overall, the mixed findings show more positive than negative trends for alcohol and marijuana use and misuse among this age group, but the progression still bears close monitoring, the researchers say.

The study, appearing in JAMA Pediatrics Oct. 12, examined how alcohol and marijuana abstinence, co-use and use disorders have changed in 18-to-22-year-olds as a function of college status, using data from a nationally representative survey of 182,722 young adults. It also looked at prescription drug use and misuse as a function of alcohol and marijuana use, from 2015 to 2018.

The researchers were particularly surprised at the drop in alcohol use and misuse.

Decrease in Alcohol Use Disorder

"We're encouraged by the significant decreases in alcohol use disorder—for both college and noncollege students," said lead author Sean Esteban McCabe, director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health at the U-M School of Nursing.

"The prevalence of alcohol use disorder in both groups in 2018 was roughly half of what it was in 2002. We are excited to learn about these drops in disordered drinking, as alcohol-related consequences are one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity for young adults."

Co-author Ty Schepis, professor of psychology at Texas State, said "even with increases in marijuana use disorder and co-use of alcohol and marijuana, there is a lot of hope in our study's results."

Drinking and Smoking Marijuana

"Points of concern that deserve more attention are the rise in co-use of alcohol and marijuana, as we know that polysubstance use can have more negative consequences and be more difficult to treat," he said.

The study also found that more than three-fourths of those who had disordered use of both alcohol and marijuana reported past-year prescription drug use and illicit drug use, while the majority reported prescription drug misuse.

The findings indicate that the substance use landscape has changed over the past 20 years, with more young adults using or misusing several different substances, as opposed to just marijuana or alcohol.

Dangerous Consequences

"For example, from 2015 to 2018, only 2.5 percent of young adults who abstained from both alcohol and marijuana reported misusing prescription drugs, while 25.1 percent of co-users misused prescription drugs," Schepis said. "That is a tenfold difference with potentially dangerous consequences."

Abusing multiple substances is often more dangerous than abusing a single substance.

"Interventions that focus solely on one substance will be less effective than interventions that take a more holistic polysubstance use perspective," McCabe said. "The findings of our study reinforce the complex task health professionals have of detecting and developing effective interventions to reduce consequences associated with polysubstance use, such as co-use of alcohol and marijuana."

Supporting Recovery Efforts

Schools and employers may require more resources to scale interventions to address both young adults with and without a disorder, including screening and brief interventions for co-use of alcohol and marijuana, McCabe said.

"The finding that abstinence is increasing among college students and young adults not in college is very important for U.S. colleges and universities to take into account moving forward," he said. "These findings reinforce the importance of the need to support those young adults in recovery and abstinence for other reasons. There are over 1 million U.S. young adults in recovery and a wide variety of resources are needed to support these individuals."

Source: McCabe SE, et al. "Trends in Alcohol and Marijuana Abstinence, Co-Use, and Use Disorders among US Young Adults by College Status: 2002-2018" JAMA Pediatrics 12 Oct. 2020.

Alcohol Consumption Spikes During Pandemic, Especially for Women

American adults have sharply increased their consumption of alcohol during the shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, with women increasing their heavy drinking episodes (four or more drinks within a couple of hours) by 41 percent, according to a new RAND Corporation study.A national survey found that the overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by 14 percent among adults over age 30, compared to the same time last year. The increase was 19 percent among all adults aged 30 to 59, 17 percent among women and 10 percent among for non-Hispanic White adults.

Continue reading

Most Drinkers Are 'Happy Drinkers' But Many Get 'Wasted'

People have always used different words to describe the inebriating effects of alcohol, from "blotto" in the 1920s to "honkers" in the 1950s. Now, new Penn State research suggests the language young adults use to describe the effects they feel from drinking may give insight into their drinking habits.

Continue reading

Even 'Low-Risk' Drinking Can Be Harmful

A growing body of research continues to reveal that even moderate drinking can negatively affect your health. Consuming alcohol even within recommended weekly low-risk drinking guidelines can result in hospitalization and death, according to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Continue reading

Alcohol Ads Linked to Drinking Behavior

Another scientific study has given the alcohol industry proof that their huge advertising budgets are indeed paying off. The more ads people see, the more they drink Cornell University research has confirmed. The more alcohol ads someone was exposed to, the study determined, the more likely they were to report consuming at least one alcoholic drink in the previous month. And among drinkers, exposure to more ads correlated to consuming more drinks.

Continue reading

Study: A.A. Most Effective Path to Sobriety

Alcoholics Anonymous, the worldwide fellowship of sobriety seekers, is the most effective path to abstinence, according to a comprehensive analysis of studies of more than 10,000 participants conducted by a Stanford School of Medicine researcher and his collaborators.

Continue reading

Alcohol Ads Should Be More Regulated

The marketing of alcoholic beverages is one cause of underage drinking, public health experts conclude. Because of this, countries should abandon what are often piecemeal and voluntary codes to restrict alcohol marketing and construct government-enforced laws designed to limit alcohol-marketing exposure and message appeal to youth. These conclusions stem form a series of eight review articles which synthesized the results of 163 studies on alcohol advertising and youth alcohol consumption.

Continue reading

Older Women Drink More and Think It's 'Normal'

Women aged 50-70 are more likely than younger women to consume alcohol at levels that exceed low risk drinking guidelines - and most think that's just perfectly fine. Research has found that despite the potential health risks of exceeding national drinking guidelines, many middle-aged and older women who consume alcohol at high risk levels tend to perceive their drinking as normal and acceptable, so long as they appear respectable and in control.

Continue reading


Page top