Trends in Young Adult Alcohol and Cannabis Use through the First Year and a Half of the COVID-19 Pandemic from a Community Cohort Sample


Objective:

There has been concern regarding increased substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among young adults, but much of this concern stemmed from cross-sectional or short-term data collected early in the pandemic. This study followed a young adult community cohort throughout the first year and a half of the pandemic to examine longer-term trends/trajectories in alcohol and cannabis use behaviors.


Method:

Beginning prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2020), 656 young adults completed up to 8 surveys on substance use and other behaviors, which extended through August 2021. Multilevel spline growth models estimated changes in alcohol/cannabis use in three segments: (1) from pre-pandemic to April 2020, (2) from April 2020 to September/October 2020, and (3) from September/October 2020 to July/August 2021. Abstainers were removed from analyses, yielding subsamples for alcohol models (N=545; Mage=25.6; 59.8% female) and cannabis models (N=303; Mage=25.6; 61.4% female).


Results:

Drinking frequency initially increased (3% per month), decreased in the second segment (4% per month), and plateaued in the final segment. Drinking quantity significantly decreased in all three segments: 4% per month in segment one, 3% per month in segment two, and 1% per month in the final segment. Cannabis frequency and quantity showed no significant changes across the first two segments, then significantly decreased in the final segment (3% and 6% per month, respectively). The significant changes for cannabis frequency/quantity were moderated by age, such that older participants had steeper decreases in the final segment.


Conclusions:

Findings highlight that young adult alcohol and cannabis use generally declined across the first year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to widespread concerns.


Keywords:

Drinking; Emerging Adults; Longitudinal; Marijuana; SARS-CoV-2; Spline Growth Modelling.

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