A recent report about a sharp rise in Wisconsin’s alcohol sales got a lot of attention. But it didn’t answer the question of who was consuming all the beer, brandy and wine that’s leaving store shelves at a faster clip than it has since 1972.

It appears it might be mom and dad, along with grandpa and grandma, who are doing all the drinking. It's not young adults, at least not college students.

A new national report sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found "a substantial and significant drop" in current alcohol use among college students between 2019 and 2020.

The Monitoring the Future study, however, found marijuana use among college-age adults in 2020 across the nation was at a historic high not seen since the 1980s.

Wisconsin is no exception.

For college students in the United States, annual marijuana use has continued to increase over the past five years, with 44 percent of them reporting marijuana use in the past year, according to the NIDA study.

Marijuana use was highest in the Northeast, where 47 percent of respondents age 19-30 reported using cannabis. In a close second was the Western U.S. at 46 percent, followed by the Midwest at 42 percent. The geographical order for vaping marijuana was the same, but with lower percentages.

With marijuana fully legal in nearby Illinois and Michigan, access is not an obstacle, said Kevin Florek, CEO of Tellurian Inc., which provides addiction and mental health services in Dane County. He was not involved in the study.

"Are there people that can use marijuana occasionally and responsibly? Absolutely, just like there’s people who can use alcohol occasionally and responsibly. The drug of choice can be anything," said Florek, a member of the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse.

Studies show younger people have much higher anxiety and depression levels than previous generations and are turning to drugs to cope. That can create difficulties when people become addicted and turn to increasingly harmful drugs, Florek said.

"The pandemic has had a major impact on our society both from a mental health standpoint but also from an increase in usage of drugs and alcohol," he added.

Pointing to statistics indicating both legal and illegal drug use, he said more people are "self-medicating" with sometimes tragic results: alcohol sales are up and drug overdose deaths soared, fueled by heroin and synthetic opioids. Last year, 861 state residents died by suicide in Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the state among adults; and Wisconsin youth appear to mimic national trends, which show the percent of youth consuming alcohol has been steadily declining.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2021, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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