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Middle-Aged Americans Are Using Marijuana, Binge-Drinking at Record Levels
  • Posted August 18, 2023

Middle-Aged Americans Are Using Marijuana, Binge-Drinking at Record Levels

Binge-drinking and marijuana use have reached historically high levels among U.S. adults aged 35 to 50, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Thursday.

For these middle-aged adults, the drugs of choice are marijuana, hallucinogens and alcohol, with nearly 30% admitting to binge-drinking in 2022.

Binge drinking for this group reached the highest level ever — 29% — in 2022, up from 23% in 2012, according to a new NIH-funded survey.

Past-year marijuana use among 35- to 50-year-olds also reached an all-time high in 2022, also approaching 30%.

“Substance use is not limited to teens and young adults, and these data help us understand how people use drugs across the lifespan,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an NIH news release.

“Understanding these trends is a first step, and it is crucial that research continues to illuminate how substance use and related health impacts may change over time,” Volkow said. “We want to ensure that people from the earliest to the latest stages in adulthood are equipped with up-to-date knowledge to help inform decisions related to substance use.”

The findings stem from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, an annual survey of substance use behaviors and attitudes in adults aged 19 to 60.

The MTF study starts by surveying 8th, 10th and 12th graders about substance use behaviors and attitudes, and then continues surveying a subset of participants into adulthood. They are followed every other year through age 30, then every five years afterward into their 60s.

The data for the 2022 survey was collected from April through October of that year.

Among younger adults, marijuana, vaping and hallucinogen use also are at or near historically high levels, according to the survey.

Marijuana use

Among adults aged 19 to 30, more than four in 10 (44%) reported past-year use of marijuana. That was up from 35% in 2017 and 28% in 2012. About 11% reported daily marijuana use, nearly double the 6% who reported daily use in 2012.

About 28% of those aged 35 to 50 reported past-year marijuana use. That was up from 25% in 2021, 17% in 2017 and more than double the 13% reported in 2012.

Vaping

About 21% of adults aged 19 to 30 reported past-year marijuana vaping compared to 12% in 2017, the first year this category was recorded.

Past-year nicotine vaping in this younger age group was 24% for 2022, up from 14% in 2017.

Their older counterparts, aged 35 to 50, were less likely to vape, with about 9% reporting past-year marijuana vaping in 2022 and 7% reporting past-year nicotine vaping.

Hallucinogens

Past-year use of hallucinogens like MDMA and mescaline for 19- to 30-year-olds grew steadily from 3% in 2012 to 8% in 2022. This also included use of LSD, peyote, shrooms or psilocybin, and PCP. Most of the drugs reported were hallucinogens other than LSD, according to the survey.

Middle-aged adults used hallucinogens, too, but at lower rates. Four percent of adults aged 35 to 50 reported past-year hallucinogen use in 2022, double that of 2021.

Alcohol

Rates of alcohol use have trended downward for young adults over the past decade. But in 2022, past-year drinking increased slightly among 19- to 30-year-olds, climbing to 84% from 82% in 2017.

Meanwhile, adults aged 35 to 50 have been downing more alcohol in the past decade, with reported drinkers increasing from 83% in 2012 to 85% in 2022.

Both age groups had a 10-year decline in use of cigarettes, sedatives and non-medical use of opioid medications, which are categorized as narcotics other than heroin.

The age groups split over amphetamines, decreasing among the younger adults over the decade but increasing among middle-aged men and women.

“The value of surveys such as MTF is to show us how drug use trends evolve over decades and across development — from adolescence through adulthood,” said Megan Patrick, a research professor at the University of Michigan and principal investigator of the MTF panel study.

“Behaviors and public perception of drug use can shift rapidly, based on drug availability and other factors. It's important to track this so that public health professionals and communities can be prepared to respond,” she added.

The MTF survey is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, in Ann Arbor.

If you need help, get information on substance and mental health treatment programs in your area by calling the free and confidential National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visiting www.FindTreatment.gov.

More information

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has more on the risks of using drugs.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, Aug. 17, 2023



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