Student Well-Being

Teen Drug, Alcohol Use Continues to Decline

By Evie Blad — December 13, 2016 2 min read
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Teenagers’ use of drugs and alcohol showed a steep decline in 2016, new data show, dropping to rates the nation hasn’t seen since the 1990s.

The data comes from the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future study, which surveys about 45,000 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students in some 380 public and private schools nationwide.

“Considerably fewer teens reported using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months—5 percent, 10 percent and 14 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively—than at any time since 1991,” the university said in a news release. “These rates reflect a decline of about one percentage point in each grade in 2016, but a much larger decline over the longer term. In fact, the overall percentage of teens using any of the illicit drugs other than marijuana has been in a gradual, long term decline since the last half of the 1990s, when their peak rates reached 13 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent, respectively.”

Here’s what the data show:

Marijuana use still poses a concern for researchers, especially among 12th-grade students. The percentage of 8th and 10th graders who reported use of marijuana within the last year declined in 2016.

Alcohol use also continued a downward trend.

“For all three grades, both annual and monthly prevalence of alcohol use are at historic lows over the life of the study,” the study found. “Both measures continued to decline in all three grades in 2016. Of even greater importance, measures of heavy alcohol use are also down considerably, including self reports of having been drunk in the previous 30 days and of binge drinking in the prior two weeks (defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion).”

Tobacco use declined in all forms, including drops in reported e-cigarette and hookah use, which had increased in previous years, the data show.

“Cigarette smoking among teens in grades 12, 10 and 8 continued a decades long decline in 2016 and reached the lowest levels recorded since annual tracking began 42 years ago,” the study found.

Prescription drugs used without medical permission also had declining use rates. Among 12th-grade students, use of prescription narcotics in the previous 12 months dropped from 9.5 percent in 2004 to 4.8 percent in 2016. Use of prescription amphetamines also declined.

“In 2016, 3.5 percent, 6.1 percent and 6.7 percent of 8th,10th and 12th graders, respectively, say they have used any in the prior 12 months—down from recent peak levels of 9 percent, 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively, reached during the last half of the 1990s.”

Read the complete study for more data on these and other drugs.

Further reading on teen drug, alcohol use:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.