Teens & Substance Use in the Pandemic

1 min read · 1 sections

It seems the pandemic has contributed to changes in substance use with both teenagers and adults alike, but perhaps not necessarily in the manner in which we would expect. Nearly two years into this airborne virus, and it more than likely feels just as daunting now for many of us as it did in the beginning. Several studies and surveys have been done on both alcohol and drug use following the first shutdown in March 2020 due to COVID. Surprisingly, one particular survey that just concluded in December 2021 indicated that substance use declined between 2020 and the end of 2021 amongst teenagers.

This survey, rightfully named, Monitoring the Future survey (MTF) measures alcohol and drug use and has been doing so since 1975. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it’s given each year to eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students, and is a nationwide sample, reflective of participating individuals self-reporting their substance use behavior based on three timeframes: the past month, the past year, and over a lifetime.

American Addiction Centers (AAC), the nationwide leader in addiction treatment, provides facilities for adults 18 years-old and over to help individuals get on the road to recovery. With licensed physicians and compassionate staff members, individuals are cared for in a supportive and safe environment. If you’re battling an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or a substance use disorder (SUD), please reach out and get the help you need today.


Substance Use of Teens Before and After COVID

Adolescents, or teenagers, are at an age when they are in the preliminary stages of adulthood with limited independence, yet without full responsibility. Their brains are not fully matured, seemingly leaving their hormones to make decisions for them. At least this is the perception that many, having “survived” this period of time in their lives, have grown to believe.

Although not all teenagers pre-COVID used, or even experimented, with drugs or alcohol,  obviously many teens in thisTeen boy stands on a porch, struggling during pandemic and has given up substance use. generation and earlier generations have.

Pre-pandemic teen substance use statistics:

  • Roughly 50% of 9th through 12th grade students reported using marijuana.
  • Roughly 2/3 of students had tried alcohol by 12th grade.
  • While roughly 40% of 9th through 12th graders reported their use of cigarettes, nearly 20% of 12th grade students used prescribed medications they didn’t have a prescription for.

Counter these statistics with the ones tracked between 2020 and 2021. The 2021 MTF survey reported a decline in the most frequently used substances amongst teens, which includes vaping nicotine, marijuana use, and alcohol use.

Demographically, the survey included students who identified as the following:

  • Asian 5.0%.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native 0.9%.
  • Black (African American) 11.3%.
  • Hispanic 16.7%.
  • White 51.2%.
  • Multiple 13.8%.

Vaping nicotine:

  • Eighth grade students: 12.1% reported vaping in 2021 in comparison to 16.6% in 2020.


  • 10th grade students: 17.3% reported marijuana use in 2021 in comparison to 28.0% in 2020.


  • 12th grade students: 46.5% reported alcohol use in 2021 compared to 55.3% in 2020.

Individuals can also review more details across all three grade levels and substances used.

If you’re battling an AUD or a SUD, please don’t hesitate to ask for help. AAC offers medical detox, treatment, aftercare, and compassion from our licensed staff in a welcoming environment to help individuals create a foundation to reach long-term sobriety. If you’re currently struggling with an active addiction, please reach out to get the help you need today.

Need more info?
American Addiction Centers Photo
Take the first step towards recovery.
American Addiction Centers Photo
Make the process simple. Ensure your benefits cover treatment.
American Addiction Centers Photo
Explore American Addiction Centers locations nationwide.
View Our Treatment Centers