Collegiate Substance Use Habits Have Changed

The Monitoring the Future report, sponsored by The National Institute On Drug Abuse at The National Institutes of Health, has revealed changes in the patterns of substance use present in the college student population.

College students are using Marijuana more and drinking alcohol less; 44% of college students said they used Marijuana last year, while 56% reported drinking. This represents a substantial increase in use for the former substance and a notable decrease in use for the latter; for comparison, only 38% of college students said they used Marijuana in 2015 while 62% of the same population admitted to drinking alcohol in 2019.

Binge-drinking among college students, defined in the parameters of the study as having at least 5 drinks in a single occasion within 2 weeks prior to the survey, also fell; the rate dropped from 32% in 2019 to 24% in 2020. Daily or near daily Marijuana use among college students, on the other hand, increased; the rate has seen a “five-year increase of 3.3 percentage points,” according to the study, and now stands at 7.9% in the college student population. The study also added that “as of 2020, almost one-in-ten young adults aged 19-30 is a daily or near daily [Marijuana] user.”

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through BetterHelp links.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


The proportion of the college student population reporting use of Psychedelic drugs was higher as well, increasing 4 points to 9% in 2020.

The pandemic was given as the cause of the reduced alcohol consumption by the study’s principal investigator, professor John Schulenberg of the University of Michigan. As Schulenberg told The Washington Post, “We clearly see that young people use alcohol as something to be taken at parties and gatherings. With the pandemic, those weren’t happening, so the alcohol intake and binge drinking dropped.”

Marijuana use, by contrast, has been affected very differently by the pandemic; more of the population than just college students have increased their recent intake of the substance.

The Pandemic And Marijuana Consumption

The New York Times called the pandemic a “breakout moment” for the Marijuana sector, and there’s ample evidence to back up that claim.

Legal sales of Marijuana ballooned in 2020, surpassing a sum of $17.5 billion; this was an increase of 46% from the year prior. This is especially notable given the economic downturn that occurred during the pandemic.

There are a few theories to explain why Marijuana use has increased so significantly. Some postulate that the rise in mental health conditions during the pandemic has resulted in more people using more Marijuana to self-medicate. There are some statistics to back up this idea; one study, published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, found that Americans who are afflicted with mental health conditions and use Marijuana medically increased their use by an average of 91% since the pandemic began.

Possible Risks: Marijuana And Psychosis

On many levels, the increase in Marijuana use and decrease in alcohol use observed in the college student population could mean fewer risks to college students’ health. Marijuana users don’t tend to form physical dependencies the way alcohol users do, and alcohol causes a host of maladies and ailments, including several types of cancer, that Marijuana use has not been linked to.

There is one notable risk of increased Marijuana use, however. It may correspond with an increased risk for psychosis. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that daily use of Marijuana, particularly the use of Marijuana with a very high level of THC, is associated with increased odds of experiencing a psychotic episode later in life. According to NPR, “The study also shows that three European cities — London, Paris and Amsterdam — where high-potency weed is most commonly available actually have higher rates of new cases of psychosis than the other cities in the study.”

This phenomenon does not necessarily indicate a causal relationship between Marijuana use and psychosis; it may be that those who are already predisposed to psychosis are more likely to self-medicate with Marijuana than those who are not. The psychoactive nature of THC can produce some subjective experiences which may be similar to those of a psychotic episode, however; more research needs to be done on the subject. Those who have a family history or a personal history of psychosis should be extremely cautious in their use of the substance.

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through the BetterHelp links below.

BetterHelp - Professional Therapy, 100% Online

Get professional help from an addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp via phone, video, or live-chat.

Take the Quiz . Get Matched. Begin Therapy.


View More Online Therapy Options

Last Updated:


William Henken

Photo of William Henken
  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

  • More from William Henken