Teen Substance Use Continues To Decline, Monitoring The Future Survey Reveals

By Kelly Burch 12/15/16

Teen marijuana use still remains high for 12th graders, particularly those in states with legalized medical marijuana.

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Man offering a marijuana joint.

Substance misuse and abuse is continuing to decline among teenagers, with teens reporting being drunk in the past month at the lowest number since surveying began in 1975.

The positive results of the 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) annual survey were released this week and showed that the use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and illicit drugs has declined among teenagers. The annual survey looks at drug use and attitudes toward drugs among the nation’s 8th, 10th and 12th graders. 

"It is encouraging to see more young people making healthy choices not to use illicit substances,” said National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli in a release. "We must continue to do all we can to support young people through evidence-based prevention efforts as well as treatment for those who may develop substance use disorders. And now that Congress has acted on the President's request to provide $1 billion in new funding for prevention and treatment, we will have significant new resources to do this.”

Botticelli was referencing the recent passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes funding for addiction treatment and prevention programs. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday. 

The MTF results seem to show that public health initiatives can work to reduce substance use among teens. One of the most striking examples is the decline in smoking rates. When the survey began measuring tobacco use in 1991, 10.7% of 12th graders reported smoking half a pack of cigarettes or more each day. Today, only 1.8% of high school seniors smoke at that rate. 

“Clearly our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use, especially among eighth graders,” said Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While an opiate epidemic rages for older individuals, use of opiates among teens is declining drastically. Only 2.9% of high school seniors reported past year misuse of the pain reliever Vicodin in 2016, compared to nearly 10% in 2006.

The decline in rates of use was less significant when it came to marijuana. While eighth graders saw a drop in marijuana use, rates among the older grades remained relatively stable from last year. Six percent of high school seniors reported using pot daily, while 22.5% reported using the drug in the past month. The survey also found that seniors had a higher rate of marijuana use in states with legalized medical marijuana. 

For Volkow, that indicated the work that still needs to be done. “When 6% of high school seniors are using marijuana daily, and new synthetics are continually flooding the illegal marketplace, we cannot be complacent,” she said. “We also need to learn more about how teens interact with each other in this social media era, and how those behaviors affect substance use rates.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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