Teen Substance Abuse Rates Dropped

Alcohol, tobacco and synthetic drug use rates down in US teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Parents may breathe a little easier — fewer teens may be lighting up, getting high and binge drinking.

A new study from the University of Michigan found that substance abuse in teens has declined in many areas. Binge drinking showed a big drop, and alcohol and cigarette rates were at their lowest points in almost 40 years in teens.

"In sum, there is a lot of good news in this year's results, but the problems of teen substance use and abuse are still far from going away," said Lloyd Johnston, PhD, the study’s lead author, in a press release. "We see a cyclical pattern in the 40 years of observations made with this study. When things are much improved is when the country is most likely to take its eye off the ball, as happened in the early 1990s, and fail to deter the incoming generation of young people from using drugs, including new drugs that inevitably come along."

Dr. Johnston is the Angus Campbell Collegiate Research Professor and Distinguished Senior Research Scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs can have major health impacts for teens. Among these are liver damage and lung cancer. Education and parental and societal expectations can reduce substance abuse, but the messages must be consistent and repetitive to affect each new generation, Dr. Johnston and team said.

The University of Michigan has been conducting an annual study called “Monitoring the Future” since 1975. This study tracks trends in substance use among students in the eighth, 10th and 12th throughout the US.

This year's study found that binge drinking — five or more drinks in a row — in teens dropped to 12 percent — down from a high point of 22 percent in 1997. Cigarette smoking was down to 8 percent from a high of 28 percent in 1997.

The use of synthetic drugs like synthetic marijuana and “bath salts” declined to 6 and 1 percent, respectively.

"Fortunately, students have come to see these synthetic stimulants as more dangerous, which they are, and that appears to have limited their use," Dr. Johnston said.

Teens also used marijuana less often, although they also reported that they didn’t believe regular use was harmful.

Although only 12th-graders reported on their use of narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers and amphetamines that have not been prescribed, the rate of use dropped 2 percent from 2013 to 2014.

"It's not as much progress as we might like to see, but at least the number of students using these dangerous prescription drugs is finally declining," Dr. Johnston said.

The findings of this study will be published in early 2015.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 19, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015