Retrospective Self-Reports of How Adolescent Substance Use Changed with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Oct 21;19(20):13680. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192013680.


The final year of high school is a challenging phase of adolescents' lives and substance use can play an important role. We examined changes in the frequency and quantity of alcohol and cannabis use, and demographic correlates among Grade 12 students of 2020. Students (N = 844) from nine schools retrospectively self-reported changes in substance use after the easing of COVID-19 lockdowns (back to school), compared to before the pandemic. Changes in use were examined with age, gender, Aboriginal or Torres Islander, parental and family characteristics, and truancy. Thirty-one percent of students reported that they used alcohol less frequently, and 24% reported that they used it more frequently compared to pre-COVID-19. Most students (46%) reported that they used cannabis less, while a subset reported using more frequently (22%). A history of truancy was associated with an increased frequency (OR = 2.13 [1.18-3.83]) of cannabis use. A substantial minority of adolescents used more alcohol and cannabis after the initial COVID-19 lockdown period. Students in their final year who reported increased use may benefit from increased support to manage their substance use.

Keywords: COVID-19; adolescent behavior; adolescent health; alcohol; cannabis; marijuana; pandemics; underage drinking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology

Grants and funding

This project was supported by Commonwealth funding awarded to the National Centre for Youth Substance Use Research (NCYSUR) through the Australian Government Drug and Alcohol Program (primary funder of this work). The project was supported by an early career research grant from the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland awarded to C.Q. J.L. and L.H. is supported by The National Health and Medical Research Council grants. The funding sources had no role in the design of this study and did not have any role during its execution, analyses, interpretation of the data, or decision to submit results.