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Younger people are drinking less alcohol than previous generations, study finds

However, researchers say substance use has become more widespread

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Because of the health complications associated with drinking alcohol, many recent studies have focused on how college-aged consumers are affected by their drinking habits

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan has found that alcohol use among this age group is much lower than it was roughly 20 years ago. However, they also learned that more young people have started using marijuana in recent years, and it’s also become more common to combine multiple substances. 

“We’re encouraged by the significant decreases in alcohol use disorder -- for both college and non-college students,” said researcher Sean Esteban McCabe. “The prevalence of alcohol use disorder in both groups in 2018 was roughly half of it was in 2002. We are excited to learn about these drops in disordered drinking, as alcohol-related consequences are one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity for young adults.” 

Assessing behaviors of college-aged consumers

The researchers were most interested in understanding how substance use among college-aged consumers, regardless of whether or not they were in school, has changed since the early 2000s. They surveyed over 182,000 people between the ages of 18 and 22 to see their relationships with alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs. 

The most positive takeaway from the survey revealed that fewer college-aged consumers are drinking alcohol in excess. Compared to 20 percent of college students who abstained from alcohol in 2002, nearly 30 percent of college students reported abstaining from alcohol in 2018. 

The researchers say more differences arose when they looked at the rate of co-using substances, like mixing alcohol and marijuana or prescription drugs. A higher number of participants reported using multiple substances, which also increased the likelihood of misusing one or more substances. 

“For example, from 2015 to 2018, only 2.5 percent of young adults who abstained from both alcohol and marijuana reported misusing prescription drugs, while 25.1 percent of co-users misused prescription drugs,” said researcher Ty Schepis. “That is a tenfold difference with potentially dangerous consequences.” 

The importance of support and resources 

The researchers expressed concerns about young people using multiple substances, and they hope that support services and other resources become more available to combat this problem. 

“The finding that abstinence is increasing among college students and young adults not in college is very important for U.S. colleges and universities to take into account moving forward,” said McCabe. 

“These findings reinforce the importance of the need to support those young adults in recovery and abstinence for other reasons. There are over 1 million U.S. young adults in recovery and a wide variety of resources are needed to support these individuals.” 

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