Smoking, drinking, and the misuse of stimulants by teenagers have continued
on downward trends that have been evident in the past decade, but other
substance use trends are flattening or showing signs of increase, according to
the latest data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey released by the
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on December 11, 2008.
The MTF survey is funded by NIDA. It has been carried out every year since
1975 by Lloyd Johnston, Ph.D., the study's principal investigator, and
colleagues at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. The
2008 survey was completed by more than 46,000 eighth, 10th, and 12th graders
in 386 public and private secondary schools across the United States.
The prevalence of cigarette smoking continued the decline seen since the
mid-1990s and reached or nearly reached the lowest percentages on record in
all three grades. In 2008, 7 percent, 12 percent, and 20 percent,
respectively, of eighth, 10th, and 12th graders reported smoking in the prior
The use of alcohol has also been decreasing steadily from its peak in the
mid-1990s, albeit at a slower pace than the decline in cigarette smoking. The
prevalence of prior-30-day alcohol use in 2008 was 16 percent, 29 percent, and
43 percent, respectively, in the three grades. The downward trends of alcohol
use and of getting drunk in the prior 30 days were consistent with the
reported decline in the availability of alcohol, especially for eighth
graders. Nevertheless, 28 percent of 12th graders admitted being drunk in the
prior 30 days.
In the area of substance use, "just about all the declines [in drug
classes] were in stimulants," said Johnston at a press conference.
Notably, methamphetamine use has seen a steady decline since it was added to
the survey questionnaire in 1999. The prevalence in 2008 was down by
two-thirds compared with 1999 in all three grades. The prevalence of other
forms of amphetamine use, such as crystal methamphetamine and prescription
dextroamphetamine (Ritalin and generics) misuse was also down. Cocaine and
crack cocaine use continued with their general decline in the past decade as
"These [findings] are not only good news, they are
extraordinary," said NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., because
adolescence is "the stage during development that the brain is more
susceptible to the deleterious effects of repeated drug use." She noted
that alcohol and tobacco use is known to confer higher risk of other substance
use later in life, and progress made in these areas can have a long-term
effect of reduced substance use as these school-age youths grow older.
Nevertheless, several other classes of drugs showed flattening use trends
in recent years after clearly declining from their peaks in the 1990s. These
included LSD, other hallucinogens, ecstasy, heroin, and tranquilizers.
Misuse of prescription drugs, especially opioids, has not marked obvious
decline in recent years. For example, 4.7 percent and 9.7 percent of the 12
graders reported misusing OxyContin and Vicodin, respectively; and both
remained close to peak levels since the MTF survey began to measure their use
There were signs indicating that marijuana use may be rising despite
gradual decline in recent years. The prevalence of past-30-day use of
marijuana was 5.8 percent, 13.8 percent, and 19.4 percent in eighth, 10th, and
12th graders, respectively, which were not statistically significantly
different from 2007. The perception of risk associated with regular use fell
significantly this year among eighth graders, which could signal a growing
likelihood of use as this age group becomes older. "We may be at the end
of the decline of marijuana use," said Johnston.
Monitoring the Future survey results are posted at<http://monitoringthefuture.org>.▪