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Coping With Covid: Survey Results Show College Students Used More Cannabis, Drank Less Alcohol in 2020

There has been much news of increased drinking as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the results of a national survey shows that among college students in the United States, cannabis use was at an all-time high in 2020, while drinking levels were lower than ever.

According to the National Institutes of Health annual Monitoring the Future survey, which took the responses of 1,550 young people into account, cannabis use among American college students has increased consistently over the past five years. In 2020 it reached the highest level since the 1980s, growing from 38 percent in 2015 to 44 percent.

Frequency of use also increased, with eight percent of students reporting daily cannabis use in 2020. In 2015, that number was just five percent. Among young adults not enrolled in college, 43 percent reported past year cannabis use, consistent with 2018 and 2019, while 13 percent said they used cannabis daily.

Reductions in Drinking, Drunkenness Among College Students

College students drank less in 2020 than they did in 2019, with 56 percent of students consuming alcohol in the past year compared to 62 percent in the previous year. The number of students to report getting drunk also dropped significantly, with 35 percent reporting drunkenness in 2019 and just 28 percent in 2020.

Before 2019, alcohol consumption among students had been consistent, but 2020 saw a significant change. Young people not in college, on the other hand, displayed relatively consistent numbers between 2015 and 2020, and did not display a drop in consumption as a result of the pandemic.

The drastic change in drinking among college students is worth noting, according to John Schulenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who was a principal investigator of the study.

“Historically, college students have reported the highest levels of binge drinking compared to same-aged youth who are not enrolled in college,” he said. “This is the first year where binge drinking was similar between the two groups. While binge drinking has been gradually declining among college students for the past few decades, this is a new historic low, which may reflect effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of reduced time with college friends.”

He suggests lockdowns are likely responsible for the reduction in binge drinking, as social gatherings and parties were brought to a halt when the pandemic began. 

Increases in Hallucinogen Use

In addition to using less alcohol and consuming more cannabis, the survey also found that past year hallucinogen use increased significantly among college students from 2019 to 2020, nearly doubling, from 5 to 9 percent. There was not significant change to this number among young people not attending college.

The use of other substances declined as well, including cigarettes, amphetamines, and prescription opioids.

In an interview with the Washington Post, National Institute on Drug Abuse director Norah Volkow suggested that the pandemic has, “made marijuana into an alternative to escape the monotony of isolation.”