American vs. EU = It's a Draw

American teens smoke and drink less than European ones but use more illegal drugs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Ready for some good news about teenagers and smoking and drinking? Kids in the U.S. are doing less of both than their peers across the pond.

A report from the University of Michigan has found some big differences between the substance use habits of American teens compared to those in 36 European countries.

American teens smoke and drink a lot less, but they use other illegal drugs much more.

"Talk to your children about drug abuse."

Swedish sociologist Bjorn Hibbell led the European survey, and social psychologist Lloyd Johnston led the American survey, called the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey.

Johnston has been principal investigator for the MTF study for 37 years, since it started at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Both surveys used nationally representative samples of teenagers except in four of the European countries.

For the American report, 15,400 students in tenth grade from 126 high schools completed the questionnaires in their classrooms. European students were also given questionnaires in their classrooms, and the samples included a minimum of 2,400 students aged 15 and 16 from each of the 36 participating countries.

The countries included in the survey are both the large population centers like Germany, France and Italy as well as the smaller countries in Eastern and Western Europe.

A comparison of the reports showed that nearly all European teens drink far more than American teens, and the teen smoking rate in Europe is more than double the rate in the U.S.

While 27 percent of American teens drank alcohol within the previous 30 days before the survey, the average rate in Europe was 57 percent. Only Icelander students drink less at 17 percent.

Icelanders also had the lowest smoking rate at 10 percent, but the U.S. wasn't far behind with a 12 percent rate of teens who had smoked in the month before the questionnaire. The average teen smoking rate in Europe was 28 percent.

Johnston said the rates of teen drinking and smoking in the U.S. has been decreasing over the past three decades, but Europeans have always outdrank and outsmoked Americans. American teens, on the other hand, outdo Europeans on other use of most other illegal drugs.

Except for teens in France and Monaco, those in the U.S. had the highest rate of marijuana usage with 18 percent of U.S. adolescents reporting they had used pot or hashish in the past month.

France's rate was 24 percent and Monaco's was 21 percent. The rest of Europe was less than half the U.S. rate, with an average of 7 percent using marijuana/hashish across all the other countries.

The reasons for American teens' getting high more often is likely because of two other factors reported in the study: there's a lot more marijuana available here in the U.S., and fewer teens in the U.S. associate pot with high risk.

In terms of other illegal drugs, American teens use them at almost three times the rate of European teens. While only six percent of European adolescents have used an illegal drug besides marijuana in their lifetimes, 16 percent of American teens had done so.

Other results indicated that six percent of American students use hallucinogens like LSD compared to two percent in Europe, and seven percent of American kids use ecstasy compared to three percent across the Atlantic. Nine percent of American teens use amphetamines while only three percent of European kids do.

When it came to the hardest stuff, Americans and Europeans are about on par with each other. Use of cocaine, crack, heroin and anabolic steroids were all at one to three percent on both continents. Inhalants were used by about 10 percent of both American and European teens.

"Clearly the U.S. has attained relatively low rates of use for cigarettes and alcohol, though not as low as we would like," Johnston said. "But the level of illicit drug use by adolescents is still exceptional here."

The American report was published in February this year, and the European one was released May 31. The American survey was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 4, 2012
Last Updated:
June 4, 2012