The Shift in Drug Use Habits in the United States

The Shift in Drug Use Habits in the United States

The landscape of drug use in the United States is undergoing a significant transformation as a recent study reveals that regular cannabis consumption has now surpassed frequent alcohol consumption for the first time in a national survey that spans several decades. Jonathan Caulkins, a public health policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College in Pittsburg, highlights the significant shift in drug habits among Americans. This revelation is based on self-reported data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has been tracking drug habits since 1979.

Caulkins’ analysis delves into long-term trends in drug use, particularly focusing on the consumption of alcohol and cannabis. The comparison spans three key years of policy changes (1979, 1992, and 2008) and the most recent available data from 2022. The study shows a continual evolution in drug habits over the years, with marked changes in the frequency of cannabis use compared to alcohol consumption. The survey methodology has evolved over time, adapting to new technologies and expanding the scope to capture a diverse range of participants.

While alcohol consumption still remains more prevalent overall, the frequency of high alcohol consumption has declined, whereas daily or near-daily cannabis use has seen a notable increase since 1992. The shift in consumption patterns is evident in the comparison between daily or near-daily alcohol drinkers and cannabis users. In 1992, there were significantly more daily alcohol drinkers than cannabis users, but by 2022, the trend had reversed with more daily or near-daily cannabis users reported.

The changing trends in drug use habits are also reflected among young Americans, particularly teenagers and school-aged children, who have exhibited a decrease in alcohol misuse and an increase in cannabis use over the past couple of decades. This shift aligns with broader policy changes in the US, including the expansion of medical cannabis legalization since 1993. However, it is important to note that societal attitudes and cultural shifts towards cannabis and alcohol also play a role in shaping these consumption patterns.

As the data continues to evolve, particularly after 2022, the landscape of drug use in the US is likely to see further transformations. The recent announcement by the US Drug Enforcement Agency to ease federal restrictions on cannabis further underscores the changing perspectives on drug policy in the country. Jonathan Caulkins emphasizes that this shift in drug habits, particularly the prominence of cannabis consumption, signifies a fundamental change in drug use patterns that is likely to have wide-reaching implications in the years to come.


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