Drug use in teens down; progress halts among youngest
The proportion of older teens who use illicit drugs continued to fall in 2005, the fourth consecutive year of decline among the nation's 10th- and 12th-grade students, according to the latest national survey in the Monitoring the Future series released Dec. 19.
The long-term improvements that had been occurring among 8th graders since 1996, however, appear to have halted this year.
The use of marijuana and illicit drugs other than marijuana, taken as a group, showed very modest continuing declines this year among 10th- and 12th-grade students, the study shows.
"What is significant is that the use of these substances has declined substantially since the recent peak levels reached in the mid-1990s," says Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator. "Generally, the proportional declines since then have been greatest among the eighth graders and least among the 12th graders, despite the fact that 8th graders show no further improvement this year."
Overall, the use of any illicit drug in the 12 months prior to the survey is down by more than a third among 8th graders since 1996, the recent peak year for that grade. That use is down by just under a quarter among 10th graders but by only about 10 percent among 12th graders. Tenth and 12th graders reached their recent peaks in 1997. Marijuanaby far the most widely used of the illicit drugsis down by similar proportions.
"We believe that the greater proportional declines in previous years in the lower grades are now being echoed in the upper grades, as those younger adolescents age and enter the upper grades," Johnston says.
In 2005, the proportions of youths ever having tried any illicit drug in their lifetimes are 21 percent, 38 percent, and 50 percent in grades eight, 10, and 12, respectively. In other words, exactly half of the students today have tried an illicit drug by the time they finish high school. The proportions indicating any use of an illicit drug during the 12 months immediately preceding the survey are 16 percent, 30 percent and 38 percent in grades eight, 10 and 12.
Some drug use declines
Marijuana continued a pattern of very modest decline in the upper grades since 2001. Since the recent peak year of 1996, there has been a one-third decline in the annual prevalence of marijuana use among 8th graders, from 18.3 percent to 12.2 percent in 2005, but none of that decrease occurred this year. Tenth and 12th graders showed more modest declines of one-quarter and one-eighth, mostly because their use held steady from 1997-2001 before beginning to decline again.
Among the other drugs showing modest declines this year are amphetamines, methamphetamine, steroids and alcohol.
Many classes of drugs showed little or no systematic change this year, though in most cases they have shown some decline in recent years. The use of LSD by adolescents had been in decline since recent peak levels were attained in all three grades in 1996.
Illicit drugs, alcohol trends
The only drugs showing a pattern of increase this year are sedatives, OxyContin, and inhalants; the increases are modest and confined in each case to one grade. The use of alcoholic beverages has generally been in decline among American teens for the last several years, and that decline continued in all three grades in 2005.
The 30-day prevalence of alcohol use among teens generally rose some in the early 1990s, along with illicit drug use, and then started to gradually decline in the late 1990s, again somewhat in parallel with illicit drug use. However, both the earlier rise and later declines were more gradual for alcohol than for illicit drug use.
In 2005 one-sixth (17 percent) of the 8th graders indicated drinking once or more in the prior 30 days, as did a third (33 percent) of the 10th graders, and nearly half (47 percent) of the 12th graders.