The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey announced —— that they found college-aged adults’ use of marijuana has continued to steadily increase since 1975, while the rate of “being drunk” has held at near 60 percent prevalence level since 2000.
Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator and a senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, said alcohol, marijana, narcotics and cigarettes are among the most frequently used substances on campus.
Johnston said one of the more significant and relevant facets of the study is its focus on alcohol use among college students, a demographic which often drinks in excess in short periods of time.
Johnston said the numbers on alcohol use are concerning, “particularly for people who are binge drinking and doing what we’ve called extreme binge drinking, which is very dangerous — having 10 or 15 drinks in a row.”
Though the study revealed alcohol use among college students has faced a sharp decline between 1991 and 2000, the rate of having “been drunk” has remained steadily near the 60 percent prevalence level in more recent years. For lifetime use, the percentage is closer to 70 percent.
“In college we see about one in every nine college students indicate that in the past two weeks — two weeks before the survey — that they had had 10 or more drinks in a row at least once,” Johnston said.
This nationwide trend increase seems to have been reflected in the number of alcohol-related offenses on the University campus in recent years. There were 515 incidents regarding illegal possession or use of alcohol in the 2013-2014 school year, compared to 490 incidents in the year prior, according to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution annual report.
Johnston did not attribute the high rate of alcohol usage to any new developments, socially or otherwise. However, he said he has noticed a narrowing gap in alcohol consumption between males and females.
“Drinking and heavy drinking have been characteristic of American universities for a long time,” Johnston said. “There hasn’t been a lot of change in the drinking rates, except a little decrease over a long period of time among males but practically none among females. What’s happened actually is females have gotten close to catching up to their male counterparts in the amount that they drink.”
According to the report, college students’ use of marijuana has increased steadily since the survey’s initiation in 1975. More than 50.4 percent of respondents reported using the drug in 2015, a 4.1 percent increase since the survey’s inception.
In addition to an overall increase in use, Johnston also noted a rise in the daily use of marijuana. College student and young adult levels of daily use showed an increase of almost 1 percent from 2007 to 2015, from 5.1 percent to 6 percent, respectively.
Johnston attributed both spikes to cultural shifts in perception and nationwide policy changes.
“With marijuana, the perception of risk has gone in the opposite direction (from narcotics),” he said. “We’ve seen a big drop in the proportion of college students or people their age who see even heavy marijuana use as risky.”
Johnston said the increase in public discussion about the advantages of medical marijuana has aligned with perceptions that the substance is less dangerous — an idea that he noted has not yet been confirmed due to a lack of long-term data on the topic.
There has been much debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana, along with its associated health effects nationwide.
One recent study from the University has indicated marijuana can negatively affect neurological responses such as pleasure, memory, judgment and coordination. However, some medical experts recommend marijuana — at least for medical use — due to its pain relieving and side-effect reducing qualities, according to the University Health System website
Johnston suggested that perhaps as more long-term data is accumulated — much like how cigarettes were found to be dangerous only after years of collecting usage data — more of the health consequences surrounding marijuana use will be established.
Johnston said in the past, perceived risk for narcotics has been relatively low among high school and college-aged populations. However, these perceptions have changed as college-aged adults recognize greater risk, according to the study — a trend that Johnston noted is particularly beneficial both in the short and long run.
“The fact that these two groups are not (using narcotics heavily) is important because they are not currently putting themselves at risk and because, as they grow older and replace the older generation, the less likely they’ll be carrying with them a narcotic habit,” Johnston said.
He said he believes this decline in narcotics use among young adults is likely due to social movements and news outlets outlining more sensationalized cases of overdose.
“Narcotics have been getting a lot of national press related to increase in overdose deaths and so I think that probably has influenced people’s willingness to use narcotics,” Johnston said.
The study also revealed a significant shift in cigarette usage among college students. Smoking among the young adult subgroup dropped to 17 percent in 2015 from its recent peak of 31 percent in 1998.
One caveat Johnston mentioned was a discrepancy between the rate of cigarette smoking among college students and the rate of smoking among their unenrolled same-age peers. He found a dramatic difference between the two populations, highlighting more frequent smoking tendencies in the latter demographic.
“The change in cigarette smoking has been very substantial, particularly among college students,” Johnston said. “That, of course, bodes well for their future health and longevity, and for their present budget, since smoking is a very expensive habit.”