Teen Substance Use Shows Promising Decline

Teen Substance Use Shows Promising Decline

The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) annual survey results released from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reflect changing teen behaviors and choices in a social media-infused world.

The results show a continued long-term decline in the use of many illicit substances, including marijuana, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and misuse of some prescription medications, among the nation’s teens. The MTF survey measures drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the NIH.

Findings from the survey indicate that past year use of any illicit drug was the lowest in the survey’s history for eighth graders, while past year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana is down from recent peaks in all three grades.

Marijuana use in the past month among eighth graders dropped significantly in 2016 to 5.4 percent, from 6.5 percent in 2015. Daily use among eighth graders dropped in 2016 to 0.7 percent from 1.1 percent in 2015. However, among high school seniors, 22.5 percent report past month marijuana use and 6 percent report daily use; both measures remained relatively stable from last year. Similarly, rates of marijuana use in the past year among 10th graders also remained stable compared to 2015, but are at their lowest levels in over two decades.

The survey also shows that there continues to be a higher rate of marijuana use among 12th graders in states with medical marijuana laws, compared to states without them. For example, in 2016, 38.3 percent of high school seniors in states with medical marijuana laws reported past year marijuana use, compared to 33.3 percent in non-medical marijuana states, reflecting previous research that has suggested that these differences precede enactment of medical marijuana laws.

The survey indicates that marijuana and e-cigarettes are more popular than regular tobacco cigarettes. The past month rates among 12th graders are 12.4 percent for e-cigarettes and 10.5 percent for cigarettes. A large drop in the use of tobacco cigarettes was seen in all three grades, with a long-term decline from their peak use more than two decades ago. For example, in 1991, when MTF first measured cigarette smoking, 10.7 percent of high school seniors smoked a half pack or more a day. Twenty-five years later, that rate has dropped to only 1.8 percent, reflecting the success of widespread public health anti-smoking campaigns and policy changes.
There has been a similar decline in the use of alcohol, with the rate of teens reporting they have “been drunk” in the past year at the survey’s lowest rates ever. For example, 37.3 percent of 12th graders reported they have been drunk at least once, down from a peak of 53.2 percent in 2001.

Although non-medical use of prescription opioids remains a serious issue in the adult population, teen use of prescription opioid pain relievers is trending downwards among 12th graders with a 45 percent drop in past year use compared to five years ago. For example, only 2.9 percent of high school seniors reported past year misuse of the pain reliever Vicodin in 2016, compared to nearly 10 percent a decade ago.

The MTF survey, the only large-scale federal youth survey on substance use that releases findings the same year the data is collected, has been conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor since 1975.

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