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Teen Drug Use Has Reached Surprising Lows

By
Bethany Radcliff

We spend a lot of time talking about disturbing new teen drug trends, but finally, there's some good news! According to recently released federal survey data, teen drug use is, for the most part, tracking lower than it's been in 25 years.

The Monitoring the Future report looked at the illicit drug, alcohol, and tobacco use of 50,000 teenagers in grades 8 through 12. They found that 5 percent of eighth graders, 10 percent of high school sophomores, and 14 percent of seniors had tried illicit drugs in the previous 12 months. In 1991, these percentages were 13 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent across the same grade levels.

Similarly, the number of teens who had participated in binge drinking in the previous two weeks dropped, with just 3 percent of eighth graders to 16 percent of twelfth graders engaging in the activity. Binge drinking has been declining steadily in recent years.

When it comes to smoking cigarettes, twelfth grade participation has fallen from 63 percent to 28 percent in the past 25 years, and vaping has declined for the first year since it became part of the survey in 2011. Even heroin usage among teens has declined, from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent among twelfth graders in 2016. (These results are positive, but by no means undermine the dangerous heroin epidemic that we covered earlier this year.)

Unfortunately, not all of the news is positive, as marijuana is on the rise among older high school students. For seniors, the numbers have held at a steady rate since 2011--36 percent reported using pot this year. Though that percentage seems high, it's not as alarming as it sounds. With all the grades combined, marijuana usage has actually declined over the past few years. And with changes in legalization among states, the overall decline is a surprise that's leaving experts a bit dumbfounded--suggesting that this generation is safer and more careful than previous generations when it comes to consuming drugs.

Still, marijuana usage often gets teens comfortable with saying yes to other drugs, so it's all the more important to make sure your teens understand the dangers that all drugs--including marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes--pose to their overall health and quality of life. These results are positive overall, but they don't erase the problems and dangers that remain. After all, these percentages are merely a number--no matter how large or small, they represent actual issues that affect teens.

For more information on teaching drug awareness in the classroom, be sure to check out this Teaching Tough Topics guide. Don't forget to share our story, "Heroin Took Over Our Town" with teens, and encourage them to get involved in the fight against drug abuse by spearheading interactive campaigns like this one from DoSomething.org.

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