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Young Adults and the Decline of Alcohol Use

by Landmark Recovery

May 17, 2021

Young Adults + Decline of Alcohol Use

Young people are known for their love of fun. You can regularly find them out on the weekends, smoking, drinking, and partying. Or can you?

Despite perceptions about the 18-22-year-old age range, young adults are actually using alcohol far less than they used to.

The Downturn in Drinking

According to data compiled by Medical Xpress from a JAMA Pediatrics publication, there has been a significant drop-off in alcohol use among youths. Alcohol abuse among 18-22-year-olds, both enrolled in college and not, has halved in the 15 years between 2002 and 2018. In that same time, the percentage of individuals in that age group who abstained from alcohol entirely also increased. Among college students, the rate jumped from 20 to 28 percent. In non-college students, there was another jump from 24 to 30 percent.

Though alcohol abuse rates among young adults have been declining, marijuana use and abuse have risen. There has also been an uptick in marijuana and alcohol co-use.

The Rise of Polysubstance Use

Although alcohol abuse on its own is dropping, it is giving rise to substance abuse of a much broader scope.

Around three-fourths of the young adults who reported using alcohol and marijuana also reported prescription and illicit drug use within the last year. The majority of that same group admitted to misusing prescription drugs. Unfortunately, polysubstance abuse can be more difficult to treat, and combining substances often have unintended side effects.

From 2015 to 2018, the number of young adults abstaining from alcohol and marijuana who admitted to abusing prescription drugs was only 2.5 percent. However, among the same age group, co-users of marijuana and alcohol reported a 25.1 percent rate of abusing prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, in 2019, The Atlantic reported that adults between the ages of 22 and 38 have also been drinking less. Like their younger counterparts, they mostly seem to be substituting an evening glass of wine for marijuana.

A Cultural Shift Emerges

There seems to be an overarching cultural shift underway, one that is leaving alcohol-related socializing in the dust. Although people of all ages seem to be staying away from alcohol, it doesn’t mean there has been an enthusiastic embrace of sobriety.

Of course, it’s worth noting that all this information comes from 2018 and 2019, before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has already been well-documented that the pandemic has caused a massive surge in alcohol and drug use to cope with stress, boredom, and to mental health symptoms. We can only hope that the new substance abuse trends stemming from COVID-related strain are just a blip in the data, not a permanent feature.

If you or a loved one struggle to cope with alcohol or drug abuse, there is help for you. Landmark Recovery can support you on your journey to sobriety and beyond. It all starts with a phone call. Reach out today to learn more about how we help.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.