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The Good News Is Teen Substance Use Declined in 2014

It’s common to believe that teens are going to use drugs and drink because that’s what they do when they’re adolescents. It’s a time of drug experimentation, wild parties, and doing things you might not otherwise do when you’re older.


However, research indicates that drug use among teens went down in 2014. Each year, the University of Michigan and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) regularly conduct surveys to assess the amount of substance use by teens. The survey interviews approximately 40,000 eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders. The 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, as it’s called, noted a decline in the use of marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, and cigarettes on a monthly and daily basis.


The NIDA director, Nora Volkow, commented that the rates of alcohol and cigarette use are down at their lowest point since the study began in 1975. Volkow also commented that it’s possible the legalization of marijuana might have an effect on the low rates. However, it’s also possible that prevention efforts are having their effect as well. Despite these numbers, there are some substances, such as heroin and e-cigarettes, that have not gone down. Heroin use among teens remained stable while e-cigarettes have showed a marked increase. Furthermore, there are still one in five seniors reporting that they are binge drinking.


Despite the lower numbers in the use of alcohol and marijuana, Volkow continued to stress the importance of prevention efforts. This is particularly true for the use of e-cigarettes, heroin, and prescription drugs. One danger, among many, that e-cigarettes pose is that it appears to be a gateway to smoking. And nicotine can sometimes be a gateway drug to other recreational drugs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 4.5% of high school students and 1.1% of middle school students had used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. However, more recent studies show these rates to be higher.


At the same time, there are high rates of use for heroin and prescription drugs. Every day in the United States, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription drugs without the consent of a physician. NIDA has found that among teens between the ages of 12 to 17 years old, 14.8% reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the last year. Also, according to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs were the fifth most commonly abused drug by 12th graders.


One of the risks to using prescription drugs is that it can lead to the use of other drugs. For instance, with opioids – one type of prescription drug – NIDA found that teens have commonly combined various drugs when using them. A recent study covering the years 2002-2006 indicates that 7 out of 10 adolescents who are using opioids for non-medical purposes have combined opioids with other drugs and/or alcohol in the last year. Marijuana (58.5% of teens surveyed) and alcohol (52.1% of teens surveyed) were the most common drug to be combined with opioid use, followed by cocaine (10.6%), tranquilizers (10.3%), and amphetamines (9.5%). Other results of the study include:


  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 8 times more likely to report abusing marijuana than non-users of opioids.
  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 4 times more likely to report being drunk than non-users of opioids.
  • 24% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with marijuana.
  • 15% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with alcohol.


Although lower teen rates of alcohol and marijuana use is a reason to celebrate, there is still more work to be done with regard to keeping American teens safe. The use of heroin, prescription drugs, and e-cigarettes are drugs that place a significant risk on adolescents.


If you or someone you know needs help with ending their drug use or drinking, contact a mental health professional today.



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