Teen Vaping Remains High

By Richard Capriola 01/27/21

Alcohol and marijuana continue to be popular substances among today’s teens while rates of vaping nicotine and marijuana have increased to “markedly high levels.”

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View of person in hoodie from the back, clouds of vape or cigarette smoke issuing from his head
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Teenagers are vaping marijuana and nicotine at alarming rates. That’s the finding from the most recent Monitoring the Future survey of substance use behaviors among adolescents. The survey is sponsored by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Each year students in eighth, tenth and twelfth grades are asked about their use of substances and their perception of drug availability and risk.

The percentage of high school seniors vaping marijuana increased from nearly ten percent in 2017 to twenty-two percent in 2020 and the rate among sophomores jumped from eight percent to nineteen percent. About eight percent of eighth graders are vaping marijuana.

Nicotine vaping is also increasing at alarming rates. Over thirty percent of sophomores and seniors vape nicotine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse believes “The rapid rise of teen nicotine vaping in recent years has been unprecedented and deeply concerning.” Apparently, teens have switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping nicotine. Cigarette smoking among teens “has dropped at least four-fold since the mid-1990s and is at or near historic lows.”

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance among adolescents. Daily marijuana use “defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days by any method, significantly increased in 10th and 8th grade”. In 2020, eleven percent of eighth graders used marijuana while twenty-eight percent of sophomores and thirty-five percent of seniors used it.

How students perceive the risk associated with smoking marijuana has changed significantly over the past decade. In 2009, over half of seniors believed smoking marijuana regularly involved a great risk. Today, only thirty percent believe regular use involves great risk. A similar trend was found with eighth and twelfth graders.

The percentage of students who disapprove or strongly disapprove smoking marijuana has also changed over the past decade. In 2010, 84 percent of eighth graders disapproved smoking marijuana regularly. Today, only 76 percent disapprove. Disapproval declines as students grow older. The 76 percent disapproval rate among eighth graders falls to 67% when they become seniors

Alcohol remains the most widely used substance by teens. In 2020, one in five eight graders, forty percent of sophomores and fifty-five percent of seniors reported drinking alcohol. Although these percentages are high, they are much lower than from 2000 to 2010. Binge drinking is down by more than half since reaching peak levels in the 1990s. Also, only twenty-four percent of seniors believe taking one or two drinks of alcohol every day involves great risk and only thirty-six percent believe having five or more drinks once or twice each weekend involves great risk.

Eighth graders increased their use of over-the-counter cough medicine during the past five years, from about 2 percent to almost five percent in 2020. That’s the highest rate since 2006. There has also been an increase in inhalant use among eighth graders. Its use increased to six percent. As students grow older their use of inhalants declines. While 6% of eight graders use inhalants, only one percent of senior do so. Inhalant use among seniors was at an all-time low in 2020. Sadly, only about fifty percent of eighth graders believe regular inhalant use is harmful.

Among other drugs, about four percent of seniors are using LSD, three percent use cocaine, about two percent use OxyContin without a doctor’s order and four percent use Adderall without a doctor’s order. Three percent of sophomores and seniors use OTC/Cough/Cold medicine without a doctor’s order.

Apparently, it’s not difficult for today’s teen to find the alcohol or drugs they want. Nearly eighty percent of seniors believe it’s fairly easy or very easy for them to find marijuana. Over eighty-one percent said it’s easy to get alcohol or a vaping devise. Among the more “hard core” drugs, twenty-nine percent of seniors believe it’s easy to obtain LSD, twenty-eight percent said getting cocaine is easy, and twenty-four percent believe it’s easy for them to get ecstasy.

Alcohol and marijuana continue to be popular substances among today’s teens while rates of vaping nicotine and marijuana have increased to “markedly high levels.” Researchers believe “New efforts are needed to protect youth from using nicotine during adolescence – and in particular nicotine vaping – when the developing brain is particularly susceptible to permanent changes from nicotine use and when almost all nicotine addiction is established.”

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Richard Capriola has been a mental health and addictions counselor for over two decades. He has been a licensed addictions counselor in Illinois and Texas. He recently retired from Menninger Clinic in Houston where he worked as an addictions counselor for adolescents and adults diagnosed with psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. He is the author of a new book for parents, The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse. The book is available at http://www.helptheaddictedchild.com.