Teen Substance Use Rebounds After Pandemic but Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Among high school seniors using marijuana, the Pandemic forced the largest one-year decline in use over the past 48 years. Marijuana use fell from 35.2 percent in 2020 to 30.5 percent during 2021. In 2022 it remained pretty much unchanged at 30.7 percent.

Alcohol drinking among high school seniors fell from 55.3 percent of seniors in 2020 to 46.5 during the pandemic year. However, in 2022 alcohol use among seniors rebounded to 51.9 percent —a statistically significant increase in alcohol use among high school seniors. It appears that the one-year decline in teen alcohol use during the Pandemic was fleeting and may have little long-term impact.

Vaping of Nicotine and Marijuana continues to be of concern. Prior to the Pandemic teen vaping was increasing at an alarming rate. For example, nicotine vaping among 12th graders jumped from 19 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2019. Marijuana vaping jumped from 10 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2019. For 2022 nicotine vaping among 8th grade students remained unchanged but increased slightly among 10th and 12th grade students. Marijuana vaping increased at all three grade levels. While 2022 vaping levels remain below the levels experienced prior to the Pandemic, they appear to have rebounded slightly since the Pandemic ended.

Marijuana use during 2022 increased slightly among students at all three grade levels (8th, 10th and 12th grades) but remains below pre-pandemic levels. During 2022, 8.3 percent of eighth graders, 19.5 percent of tenth graders and 30.7 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana.

Use of Inhalants, hallucinogens, cocaine, heroin and Vicodin all showed slight increases in 2022 over 2121. Non-prescribed use of both Ritalin and Adderall however increased at all three grade levels (8th, 10th and 12th grades). Non-prescribed use of Adderall increased among high school seniors from 1.8% in 2021 to 3.4% in 2022. Among 10th grade students Adderall use increased from 1.6% of students to nearly 3% if students.

While Fentanyl use is not common among teens, the increase in overdose deaths suggest the drug is becoming more dangerous. Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said “It is absolutely crucial to educate young people that pills purchased via social media, given to someone by a friend or obtained from an unknown source may contain deadly fentanyl.

Prescribed use of medications for ADHD rose significantly in 2022. The percentage of high school seniors who had using these drugs with a doctor’s prescription increased from 11 percent in 2021 to 15 percent in 2022. It’s possible that the need for ADHD treatment among teens increased during the Pandemic due to teens experiencing more stress. Another possibility is that teens sheltering at home during the Pandemic made parents more aware of their child’s attention issues which then resulted in parents seeking medical attention for their child.

Richard Capriola has been a mental health and substance use counselor for over two decades including over a decade of treating teens and adults at Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas. He is the Author of The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to adolescent Substance Abuse. www.helptheaddictedchild.com

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Richard Capriola

Richard Capriola has been an addictions counselor for over two decades. He recently retired form Menninger Clinic in Houston Texas where he treated both adults and adolescents diagnosed with substance use disorders. He is the author of The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse.