New research reveals record-high levels of binge drinking, marijuana and hallucinogen use among middle-aged US adults

While numerous news headlines highlight the alarming surge in drug overdose deaths among young adults, new research also sheds light on worrisome patterns of substance abuse among US adults aged 35 to 50.

A study backed by the National Institutes of Health underscores that binge drinking, marijuana and hallucinogen consumption have reached unprecedented levels within this age bracket.

“Substance use is not limited to teens and young adults, and these data help us understand how people use drugs across the lifespan,” said NIDA director, Nora Volkow, M.D.

Rising Marijuana and Hallucinogen Use

For adults aged 35 to 50, the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study identified an all-time high in past-year marijuana and hallucinogen use in the year 2022. This rise marks a sustained upward trajectory over the long term, with past-year marijuana usage reaching 28%. This percentage reflects a significant increase from the previous year (25% in 2021) and a substantial jump from five years ago (17% in 2017). The usage rate more than doubled when compared to a decade ago (13% in 2012).

Adults aged 35 to 50 also saw a surge in past-year hallucinogen use, reaching 4% in 2022. This statistic represented a substantial increase compared to the previous year (2% in 2021) and five and ten years ago (no greater than 1% in both 2017 and 2012).

The study encompassed various types of hallucinogens, such as LSD, MDMA, mescaline, peyote, shrooms or psilocybin, and PCP.

Alcohol Trends

Adults aged 35 to 50 have experienced a gradual rise in alcohol use over the past decade, with past-year drinking increasing from 83% in 2012 to 85% in 2022. The study’s findings further revealed a sharp uptick in binge drinking within this age group, with 29% reporting binge drinking in 2022. This figure represented the highest level ever recorded, demonstrating significant increases over the past year, five years, and ten years (26% in 2021; 25% in 2017; and 23% in 2012).

Decline in Cigarette, Sedative, and Non-Medical Opioid Use

The study also revealed some positive news–a decade-long decline in the use of cigarettes, sedatives, and non-medical opioid medications (“narcotics other than heroin”).

“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, Ph.D., 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.”

Data was collected through online and paper surveys from April 2022 through October 2022.