Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic: Supply Side Approach to Reducing Use of Substances Among Adolescents Likely Ineffective

How has adolescent substance use and the availability of substances changed during the COVID-19 pandemic? Researchers examine the issue.

Access to marijuana and alcohol among adolescents has declined at historic rates during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, adolescents still reported using these substances at the same rates as before social distancing measures had begun. These findings, from a cross-sectional analysis, were published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Data from the annual, nationally representative survey from Monitoring the Future (which is part of the National Institute on Drug Abuse) were analyzed in this study. Students (N=582) in the 12th grade in the US were invited to respond to questions about substance use and availability 1 month prior to social distancing measures and again later in the summer of 2020.

Most individuals (99%) reported that their school had closed during the pandemic.

From the time before the pandemic to the time of social distancing, fewer students indicated they could easily obtain marijuana (76% vs 59%) or alcohol (86% vs 62%). Despite the fact that fewer adolescents had access to marijuana or alcohol, the students did not report a reduced rate of use during the second survey.

Reported use of nicotine or vaping products declined from 24% to 17% and fewer students indicated that they could easily obtain a vaping device (73% vs 63%).

Student opinions about social distancing varied. Some indicated they were not meeting with friends (20%), others said they saw friends but maintained 6 feet of distance and wore a facemask (18%), and most (61%) reported lower adherence to social distancing recommendations.

The perception of the availability of marijuana was significantly lower during the second survey (odds ratio [OR], 0.48; 95% CI, 0.34-0.69; P <.01), depended on an individual’s social distancing practices (OR, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.42-0.81; P <.01), and the student’s grade point average (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.01-1.41; P <.05).

The perception of the availability of alcohol was significantly decreased during the second survey (OR, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.12-0.50; P <.01) and depended on the adolescent’s social distancing practices (OR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.47-0.90; P <.01).

The perception of the availability of vaping devices was significantly lower during the second survey (OR, 0.56; 95% CI, 0.33-0.94; P <.05) and depended on the participant’s social distancing practices (OR, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.35-0.65; P <.01).

This study may have included some bias as individuals who participated in the pandemic follow-up differed significantly for self-reported use of substances.

Adolescents reported historic declines in access to alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine products, yet only reported a reduction in nicotine use. These findings indicated that a supply side approach to reducing use of substances among adolescence may not be effective.


Miech R, Patrick ME, Keyes K, O’Malley PM, Johnston L. Adolescent drug use before and during U.S. national COVID-19 social distancing policies. Drug Alcohol Depend. Published online June 24, 2021. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.108822