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US Teens Drink Less, Drug More Than Europe

American students are less likely to smoke or drink than Europeans, but more likely to take illegal drugs, data shows.

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By Ariel Nagi

06/04/12

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American teens are less likely than Europeans to smoke or drink, but also more likely to use illicit drugs, a new study claims. Researchers surveyed 15- and 16-year-olds about their habits over the previous 30 days across 36 European countries. The then compared the findings to the University of Michigan’s 2011 “Monitoring the Future” study of American 10th graders; the resulting comparisons are mixed. Twenty-seven percent of American students drank booze, compared to 57% of the European students, while 12% of the American students had smoked cigarettes compared to the 28% average for Europe. “One of the reasons that smoking and drinking rates among adolescents are so much lower here than in Europe is that both behaviors have been declining and have reached historically low levels in the US over the 37-year life of the ‘Monitoring the Future’ study,” says Lloyd Johnston, PhD, the principal investigator of the American surveys. “But even in the earlier years of the European surveys, drinking and smoking by American adolescents was quite low by comparison." On the other hand, drug use is significantly higher among US teens: 18% of them used pot, while the average in Europe was only 7%. Likewise, 7% of the Americans took ecstasy, compared to just 3% in Europe. Researchers speculate that American students have better access to illegal drugs. “Clearly the US has attained relatively low rates of use for cigarettes and alcohol, though not as low as we would like,” Johnston says. “But the level of illicit drug use by adolescents is still exceptional here.”

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