Recent Trends in Teen Substance Abuse

Results of a nationwide survey reveal that young people still habitually smoke cigarettes and pot, and drink alcohol, but there is a decline in overall use. What is worrisome, by contrast, is the high rate of prescription drug abuse continues.

2006 Study Shows 23.2% Decline in Illicit Drug Use over Five-Year Period

The 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders indicates that their past-month use of illicit drugs has dropped 23.2% since 2001 (from 19.4% in 2001 to 14.9% in 2006). By contrast, abuse of prescription opioids remains at extremely high levels. The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The survey showed that past-month marijuana use for all three grades combined declined significantly from 2005 to 2006. Further, since 2001, past-month use of marijuana for all three grades combined decreased by almost 25% (from 16.6% in 2001 to 12.5% in 2006). There was also good news about teen smoking as well as alcohol consumption. Cigarette smoking is at an all-time low for all three grades, and past-month alcohol use continued to trend downward.

However, of significant concern is the finding that past-year use of Vicodin remained high among all three grades, with nearly one in ten high school seniors using it in the past year. Despite a drop from 2005 to 2006 in past-year abuse of OxyContin among 12th graders (from 5.5% to 4.3%), there has been no such decline among the eighth and 10th grade students, and the rate of use among the youngest students has increased significantly since it was included in the survey in 2002.

There is also concern about non-medical use of over-the-counter drugs. In the first national survey on non-medical use of cold or cough medicine, the data show that 4.2% of eighth graders, 5.3% of 10th graders, and 6.9% of 12th graders reported taking cold or cough medicines with dextromethorphan (DXM) during the past year to get high. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, and is generally safe when taken in recommended doses but in large amounts can cause dangerous side effects.

“We should all take pride in seeing a drop in the percentage of teenagers who abuse drugs, a key goal in the President’s National Drug Control Strategy,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. “But we must not ease up, as there is more to be done. We must seize the opportunity to build on this success by renewing our commitment to help young people avoid drug use, or to stop using drugs if they have started.”

“The survey results indicate that the messages we are sending to students about addiction and drug abuse are having an overall positive effect,” said NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. “But the rise in prescription drug abuse among the younger grades and the intentional abuse of over-the-counter medications are very disturbing. These findings point to the continuing need to educate our young people about the potential for harm when drugs are taken without a physician’s supervision.”

According to NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, marijuana use in the past year fallen by 36% among eighth graders, 28% among 10th graders, and 18% among 12th graders since the peak abuse years in the 1990s. On the other hand, OxyContin use in the past year has almost doubled among eighth graders since 2002, and Vicodin abuse remains high among 12th graders.

Other findings from the survey show that between 2005 and 2006:

  • Past-year and past-month methamphetamine use decreased among 10th graders, with past-year falling from 2.9% to 1.8%, and past-month decreasing from 1.1% to 0.7%
  • There was an increase in perceived harmfulness among 12th graders of heroin, ice, sedatives/barbiturates, and steroids
  • There was a decrease in perceived harmfulness and disapproval of MDMA (or ecstasy) among eighth graders
  • Use of inhalants leveled off in 2006

Teens seem to be getting the message when it comes to substance abuse – that dangerous drugs can damage their lives on all levels.

John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy notes, “We know that if people don’t start using drugs during their teen years, they are very unlikely to go on to develop drug problems later in life. That’s why this sharp decline in teen drug use is such important news: It means that there will be less addiction, less suffering, less crime, lower health costs, and higher achievement for this upcoming generation of Americans.”

Since 1975, the MTF survey has measured drug, alcohol, and cigarette use and related attitudes among adolescent students nationwide. Survey participants report their drug use behaviors across three time periods: lifetime, past-year, and past-month. Overall, 48,460 students from 410 public and private schools in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades participated in this year’s survey. The survey has been conducted since its inception by investigators at the University of Michigan.

Source: The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Monitoring The Future

get confidential help now: 866.762.3712 Email Us