Trends in Youth Drug Use
2017’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders shows that statistics for past-year use of illicit drugs (other than marijuana) are remaining steady at the lowest levels in over two decades. The survey results for past year illicit drug use was 5.8% among 8th graders, 9.4% among 10th graders, and 13.3% among 12th graders. This is down from peak rates of 13.1% for 8th graders in 1996, 18.4% for 10th graders in 1996, and 21.6% for 12th graders in 2001. Despite the decline in drug usage, statistics have also revealed that perceptions of drugs’ potential dangers have declined as well. Percentages of middle and high-schoolers who perceived certain drugs as “dangerous” or “harmful” were lower than they had been in recent years. Nearly half of all college students have used drugs; in 2016, 45% of male college students and 42% of female college students used an illegal drug. However, throughout the nation, 10 million young people (ages 12 to 29) are
in need of substance abuse treatment. Among the millions, only 1 in 10 adolescents who have a substance use disorder actually receive the professional treatment they deserve. Some of the most commonly abused drugs are marijuana, cocaine, crack, opioids (including heroin), LSD, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Research shows shocking statistics in teen substance abuse, emphasizing the prominence of drugs in America’s youth. The following are percentages for teen drug use by drug type.
- 61.5% - Alcohol
- 45% - Marijuana
- 19.5% - Any drug (except marijuana)
- 11.7% - Hallucinogens/LSD
- 9.2% - Amphetamines
- 7.5% - Tranquilizers
- 4.9% - Ecstasy
- 4.9% - Inhalants
Among youth, the top 3 substances (in ranked order) are alcohol, marijuana, and vaping products like e-cigarettes. Although opioids are a significant menace among younger individuals and are driving the epidemic, research shows that teenage opioid use is relatively low. However, all adolescents, teens, and young adults who use drugs are at risk for substance abuse problems. In fact, 9/10 individuals who abuse nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began using these substances before the age of 18. People who began using addictive substances before age 15 are 7 times more likely to develop a substance problem than those who first use after age 21 Every year that substance use is delayed during the period of adolescent brain development, the risk of addiction and substance abuse decreases.
Trends in Youth Drug Use
Beyond that, alcohol is also the agent in many catastrophic incidents. Kids who start drinking young are also seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident when they begin to drive.
In addition, 97,000 students between the ages of 18 – 24 are sexually assaulted in an alcohol-related incident. Uunderage drinkers consume more alcohol per occasion than adult drinkers and about 20% of college students struggle with alcohol abuse, meaning heavy drinking is a very prevalent issue among today’s youth. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 74% of adults participating in a substance abuse treatment program started use of alcohol or drugs before the age of 17.
Here are statistics for underage alcohol users, aged 12-20 years old.
The number of current alcohol users represents 19.3% of America’s youth, aged 12-20. 12.1% of these individuals are binge drinkers and 2.8% are heavy drinkers. As mentioned previously, alcohol abuse is a markedly predominant issue among young people in America.
Alcohol use is extremely widespread among today’s teenagers. Nearly three quarters of students (72%) have consumed alcohol (that is, more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than a third (37%) have done so by eighth grade.
American teenagers are responsible for about 11% of the alcohol consumed in the country, and 90% of the alcohol they consume is through binge drinking. Although young people consume alcohol less often than older adults, they consume it in much larger amounts. This, along with peer pressure, is what may trigger substance abuse in younger individuals.
Alcohol kills more young people than all other drugs combined. It is a factor in the three leading causes of death among 15-24-year-olds: accidents, homicides and suicides,
In 2017, more than 33% of 12th graders, 19.7% of 10th graders and 8% of 8th graders had used alcohol in the previous month. Overall, about 20% of these teens had used alcohol in the previous 30 days. Alcohol is still the most prevalent substance among youth. 68% of high school seniors have tried alcohol at least once, and a total of 8.7 million people aged 10-20 have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. Thankfully, however, underage drinking has declined significantly over recent years.
- 8th Graders
- 10th Graders
- 12th Graders
Taking the gradual decline into account, there was not a dramatic drop in alcohol use among all grades in 2017. The MTF survey also showed that perceived risk of binge drinking went down significantly in 2017, specifically among 10th graders.
Those who begin using marijuana in their adolescent or teenage years are likely to experience more negative effects than others over time. In fact, about 1 in 6 people who start using marijuana as a teen, and 25-50% of those who use it every day, become addicted to marijuana. Research also shows girls (ages 14-15) who used marijuana daily were 5 times more likely to face depression at age 21.
To show just how common marijuana is in public schools, various students in different grades were surveyed. Among 10th graders, 23.9% had used marijuana in the past year and 14% in the past month. Rates of use among 12th graders were higher still: 35.6% had used marijuana during the year prior to the survey and 22.5% used in the past month; 6% said they used marijuana daily or near-daily. Among people aged 18 or older who reported lifetime marijuana use, almost 53% report first using marijuana between ages 12 and 17. About 2% report that they first used marijuana before the age of 12.
According to the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 39 percent of college students use marijuana—the highest levels of use among college students in the past three decades.
In terms of regular marijuana use in high school, 36% of high school seniors use marijuana, similar to past years, and 6% report daily use. According to teen substance abuse statistics, more high school students used marijuana than cigarettes in 2016.
Furthermore, drug use in teens goes up in states with medical marijuana laws, compared to states without them. In 2016, 38% of high school seniors in states with medical marijuana laws reported marijuana use, compared to 33% in non-medical marijuana states.
Currently, teenagers are much more likely to use vaping devices than cigarettes. The flavoring and smoothness of the devices make it appealing to youth. They are also more easily concealed, as they do not emit the strong scent of cigarettes or cigarillos. Studies show that 27.8% of high school seniors reported “vaping” in the year prior to the survey, which was taken in the beginning of 2017. When asked what they thought was in the mist they inhaled the last time they used the vaping device, 51.8% of 12th graders said, “just flavoring,” 32.8% said “nicotine,” and 11.1% said “marijuana” or “hash oil.” The survey also asks about vaping with specific substances during the past month. Among 12th graders, more than 1 in 10 say they use nicotine, and about 1 in 20 report using marijuana in the device.
- 6.6% - Any Vaping
- 3.5% - Vaping Nicotine
- 1.6% Vaping marijuana
- 5.3% - Vaping ("Just Flavoring"
- 13.1% - Any Vaping
- 8.2% - Vaping Nicotine
- 4.2% Vaping marijuana
- 9.2% - Vaping ("Just Flavoring"
- 16.6% - Any Vaping
- 11% - Vaping Nicotine
- 4.9% Vaping marijuana
- 9.7% - Vaping ("Just Flavoring"
The CDC reports that nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18, and 98% first tried smoking by age 26. Each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth, aged 18 or younger, smoke their first cigarette. Flavorings are also said to attract youth’s usage. In 2014, 73% of high school students and 56% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time.
Despite the appeal of tobacco use and products, cigarette use has actually declined in youth. From 2011 to 2016, current cigarette smoking declined among middle and high school students. In 2016, approximately 2 out of every 100 middle school students (2.2%) reported that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—a decrease from 4.3% in 2011. 8 out of every 100 high school students (8.0%) reported that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—a decrease from 15.8% in 2011.
In regards to hookahs, the CDC also reports that from 2011 to 2016, current use had increased among middle and high school students. 2 of every 100 middle school students (2.0%) reported in 2016 that they had used a hookah in the past 30 days—an increase from 1% in 2011. In 2016, nearly 5 out of every 100 high school students (4.8%) reported that they had used hookah in the past 30 days, which is an increase from 4.1% in 2011.
Overall, about 7 of every 100 middle school students (7.2%) and about 20 of every 100 high school students (20.2%) reported current use of some type of tobacco product. In 2016, about 3 of every 100 middle school students (3.1%) and nearly 10 of every 100 high school students (9.6%) reported current use of two or more tobacco products in the past 30 days.
However, ostensibly, this data has significantly declined over the past few years. Today, more youth are using electronic cigarettes and marijuana. The 2017 MTF survey revealed that 4.2% of students are daily cigarette users, compared to 5.9% of students who are daily marijuana users.
Prescription drug misuse, which can include opioids, is among the fastest growing drug problems in the United States. In 2016, 3.6% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 reported misusing opioids over the past year. This percentage is higher (7.3%) among older adolescents and young adults aged 18 to 25. The vast majority of this misuse is due to prescription opioids, not heroin.
Fortunately, opioid misuse is decreasing. For example, among high school seniors, past year misuse of pain medication, excluding heroin, decreased to 4.2% in 2017. The past-year misuse of Vicodin decreased from a peak of 10.5% in 2003 to 2.0 percent in 2017, and Oxycontin misuse has decreased from the peak rate of 5.5 percent in 2005 to 2.7% in 2017. Furthermore, students in the 12th grade believe that opioids are harder to obtain than in the past. In 2010, 54% of students in 12th grade believed that these drugs were easily accessible compared to 35.8% in 2017.
In terms of overall pain medication misuse, past year misuse of narcotics (other than heroin) has dropped significantly among 12th graders since its survey peak in 2004—to 4.2% from 9.5%. Interestingly, teens also think these drugs are not as easy to get as they used to be. Only 35.8% of 12th graders said they were easily available in the 2017 survey, compared to more than 54% in 2010.
Death from overdose is the most serious consequence of prescription drug misuse. And while the number of deaths from drug overdose remains quite low overall, the rate of overdose deaths among adolescents is increasing. In 2015, 4,235 young people aged 15-24 died from a drug-related overdose; over half of these were attributable to opioids. The health consequences of opioid misuse affect a much larger number of people.
The CDC estimates that for every young adult overdose death, there are 119 emergency room visits and 22 treatment admissions.
Past-year use of synthetic cannabinoids (K2/herbal incense/spice, sometimes called “fake weed” or “synthetic marijuana”) has dropped significantly in the six years since the survey began tracking use of these substances. Since 2011, reported use among 12th graders has dropped from 11.4% to 3.7%. Use has also fallen from 4.4% to 2% among 8th graders and from 8.8% to 2.7% among 10th graders since 2012.
In recent years, the use of another synthetic drug called “bath salts” (synthetic cathinones) among youth has become a major concern. The MTF survey began tracking past-year cathinone use, and since 2012, there has been a decrease among 12th graders from 1.3% to 0.6% in 2017. Use among 10th graders has declined to 0.4% from a peak of 0.9% in 2013.
Drug use among teens is a real and serious issue. With the current opioid epidemic, it’s important that the youth is educated on the dangers of illicit drugs. Make sure to reach out to a health care professional if you or a loved one is suffering from substance abuse or addiction.