12 Jan Encouraging Dips in Teen Drug Use Trends

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) has released their Monitoring the Future survey results for 2014, and there’s some pretty good news! While some areas of teen drug use have stayed level or increased, other areas have decreased, indicating that more teens are starting to understand the dangers of substance abuse. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad of this year’s survey results.

What Went Down

The past year in drug use among teens reflected a steady downward trend that has been taking place over the past 10 years. These declines mean that drug awareness education from parents and teachers is working, and should encourage us to keep up the good work. Some of the drug use trends that saw a decline this year include :

Prescription narcotic abuse down from 7.1% to 6.1%
Cold/cough medicine abuse down from 3.8% to 2%
Cigarette smoking is down 50% over a 5 year period and has moved from 8.5% to 6.7% in the past year alone.
8th graders are the highest consumer of the club drug MDMA (ecstasy, Molly). Use among this group moved from 8.1% to 5.3% in the past five years.
Alcohol use in the past month for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders went from 10.2%, 25.7% and 39.2% to 9%, 23.5% and 37.4%, respectively. This includes a significant drop in binge drinking, which fell below 20% for seniors.

What Stayed the Same

While most forms of prescription drug abuse went down, abuse of the drug Adderall, which is prescribed for ADHD, held steady at 6.8%. Most kids reported that they obtained the drug from friends or family members who use it, or from their own prescriptions. Marijuana use also held steady at 21.2% for 12th graders, with the majority of students feeling that occasional marijuana use is not harmful. Even though a decline in marijuana use would have been great, the fact that this particular statistic leveled off, after years of sharp growth, hopefully shows that teens are becoming more aware.

What Went Up

As cigarette use has declined among teens, e-cigarette use has skyrocketed. Kids as young as 12 years old are picking up the habit, and it’s quite popular among middle school and high school aged kids. Not much is known about the harmful effects of the pure nicotine delivered through e-cigarettes, except that it is just as addictive as traditional cigarettes, if not more so. This could lead to cigarette smoking or other harmful addictions later on. Further research and youth education is greatly needed in this area.

Even though there has been a decline in many forms of drug use, the numbers of drug use among teens, the group most vulnerable to the harmful effects of drugs, is still staggering. Nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors still report binge drinking within the past month, which is an alarming consideration. The progress that’s been made is a sign that we need to continue forward with educating teens on the risks of drug use with determination and consistency.

Ben Harris is a Substance Use Disorder Counselor and began working in substance abuse treatment in 1987. During the past 25 years, he has worked in in-patient, residential, wilderness, intensive out-patient, and out-patient adolescent and adult programs. He has spent the majority of those years in management positions including executive director and national director responsible for the safe and effective operations of several programs. He has also served as president of the Utah Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors and on national committees with NAADAC and ICRC.

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