Teens Continue Trend Toward Better Choices, Study Finds

Courtesy: Janet Loehrke, USA Today Courtesy: Janet Loehrke, USA Today

A new report, Monitoring The Future, is the latest update of this annual survey, done by researchers affiliated with the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The survey asks teens in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades about their use of alcohol, cigarettes, and legal and illegal drugs.

This latest data show continued trends from last year, particularly declining rates of substance use, including opioids, and the continued decline in underage drinking. However, the percent of underage drinking still remains unacceptably high: approximately 40 percent of 12th graders have reported being drunk in the past year, and binge drinking remains a significant problem.

"We are heartened to see that most illicit drug use is not increasing, non-medical use of prescription opioids is decreasing, and there is improvement in alcohol and cigarette use rates," said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA. "However, continued areas of concern are the high rate of daily marijuana smoking seen among high school students, because of marijuana s potential deleterious effects on the developing brains of teenagers, and the high rates of overall tobacco products and nicotine-containing e-cigarettes usage."

The MTF survey, now in its 41st year, has been conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor since 1975. The current survey was overseen and written by faculty of University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, led by Dr. Lloyd Johnston and surveyed 44,892 students at 382 schools nationwide.

Among eighth graders, just 4 percent reported using cigarettes in the previous 30 days while 7 percent of 10th graders and 14 percent of seniors had. Those were a drop from last year s numbers. For the first time, daily marijuana use also exceeded daily tobacco cigarette use among 12th graders. Daily marijuana use for this group remained relatively stable at 6 percent, compared to 5.5 percent reporting daily cigarette smoking (down from 6.7 percent in 2014).

E-cigarette use, which has only been measured in the survey for two years, is now higher than cigarettes, though the percentage of users held steady from 2014 to 2015.

It s becoming a fashion or a trend to use an e-cigarette, Dr. Volkow told USA Today. That by itself will drive the use of e-cigarettes whether they have [nicotine] or not.

The findings related to prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse continued positive downward trends. Past-year use of opioid pain relievers was reported by 6.1 percent of high school seniors, compared with 7.1 percent a year ago and markedly lower than the 2004 peak of 9.5 percent. Past year use of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin showed a significant five-year drop, with 4.8 percent of 12th graders using Vicodin for non-medical reasons, half of what it was just five years ago, at 9.7 percent.

By contrast, past-year, non-medical use of the stimulant Adderall (often prescribed for ADHD) remained relatively steady, at 6.8 percent for high school seniors. The survey continues to show that most teens get these medicines from friends or relatives and to a lesser degree from their own prescriptions.