Pandemic lockdowns led to large increases in online play and gaming addiction, but drug use among American teenagers fell sharply, a survey reveals.
Eighth and tenth-graders reported a 40 percent drop in cannabis use, and lower cocaine and LSD consumption, in the Monitoring the Future survey. In previous years, researchers found adolescent drug use decreased, but the drop from 2020 to 2021 was the largest recorded.
The annual survey by University of Michigan researchers is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Responses were collected from 32,260 students in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades in more than 300 public and private schools across the country.
This year’s data collection differed from previous years, with 60 percent of self-reporting surveys completed at home during virtual learning.
Students Bored, Anxious
Students were asked about the mental health impact of staying at home, says the NIDA.
“The study found that students across all age groups reported moderate increases in feelings of boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness, worry, difficulty sleeping, and other negative mental health indicators,” stated the NIDA, in a December news release.
The survey did not come to conclusions about influences on drug use, says Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of Physicians and Surgeons.
“[Researchers] checked for differences in reporting behavior if reporting from home, and mentioned peer pressure, but don’t comment on [its] likely importance, and do not mention drug dealers in schools,” said Orient.
“Isolating kids is not a good idea, even if there is less drug use as there are many other harms,” said Orient.
‘Fewer Chances … to Partake’
Less access to drugs and other teens could be an explanation for the fall in use, says Timothy Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.
“It’s certainly plausible, and probably likely, that limiting access to their peers in and out of school is a contributing factor in that decline,” said Benson. “Kids certainly buy or sell drugs at school and do them with their friends from school, so it seems reasonable that the less time they spend there, the fewer chances for them to partake in recreational drug use.
“It’s just where they spend the most time interacting with their peers, and these things are going to happen,” said Benson.
Parents are looking for education options, says Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“There are a multitude of reasons that more parents are considering a different school for their child, including questionable or inappropriate curriculum and problems in school social settings, such as bullying or peer pressure,” said DeGrow.
“The pandemic has made abundantly clear that one school or type of education does not fit everyone,” said DeGrow. “Parents should be equipped with the information and resources to send their children to a school they find safe, suitable and motivating for them to learn in.”
Ashley Bateman (email@example.com) writes from Virginia.
Richard A. Miech, Ph.D., 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 15, 2021.