2014 Monitoring the Future Survey Finds Teen Alcohol & Drug Use Declining; E-cigarette Use High, Marijuana Harm Perceptions Low

Youth use of alcohol and illicit drugs are steadily declining, but e-cigarette use is high and the perception that marijuana is harmful is low, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Eighth, 10th and 12th graders reported past month alcohol use of 9 percent, 23.5 percent and 37.4 percent respectively, compared to 10.2 percent, 25.7 percent and 39.2 percent last year. This represents a significant drop in the past five years, with rates at 14.9 percent, 30.4 percent and 43.5 percent in 2009. There was a significant drop in binge drinking in 2014 among high school seniors, which is now under 20 percent. The most recent peak rate of binge drinking for seniors was in 1998 at 31.5 percent

“We are encouraged to see a continued decrease in binge drinking among young people,” said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Still, nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors report binge drinking within the past two weeks, which is unacceptably high and underscores the need for underage drinking research to remain a priority.”

The findings related to prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse continued to head in positive directions. 6.1 percent of high school seniors reported abusing narcotics other than heroin (which includes all opioid pain relievers) in the past year, compared with 7.1 percent a year ago and markedly lower than the 2004 peak of 9.5 percent. Past year use of 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.

There was also a drop in the past year use of cough/cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) among eighth graders, with only 2 percent using them for non-medical reasons, down from 3.8 percent five years ago. By contrast, past year non-medical use of the stimulant Adderall 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.

The survey also looks at a variety of illicit drugs. Past year use of MDMA — also known as ecstasy or molly — saw a decline among 10th graders to 2.3 percent in 2014 compared to 3.6 percent in 2013 and 6.2 percent in 2001. The news is also good related to the use of inhalants. With rates traditionally highest among eighth graders (unlike most other drugs), past year use among that age group is at 5.3 percent, down from 8.1 percent five years ago and from 12.8 percent at its most recent peak rate in 1995.

But not all the trends are positive.

The 2014 survey showed that past month use of smoked marijuana remained steady among eighth graders at 6.5 percent, 10th graders at 16.6 percent and 12th graders at 21.2 percent. Close to 6 percent of 12th graders report daily use of marijuana. This survey also revealed that, in 2014, in states with medical marijuana laws, 40 percent of 12th graders who reported using marijuana in the past year said they had consumed marijuana in food products (edibles) versus 26 percent in non-medical marijuana states.

Equally concerning is that the majority of high school seniors do not think occasional marijuana smoking is harmful, with only 16.4 percent saying occasional use puts the user at great risk, compared to 27.4 percent five years ago. By contrast, 56.7 percent of seniors say they disapprove of occasional marijuana smoking. Among eighth graders, there was a drop in perceived availability, with 36.9 percent saying it is easy to get marijuana, compared to last year’s 39.1 percent. More than 80 percent of seniors say it is easy to get marijuana.

“With the rates of many drugs decreasing, and the rates of marijuana use appearing to level off, it is possible that prevention efforts are having an effect,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “It is now more important than ever for the public health community to continue to educate teens, parents, teachers, community leaders, the media and health care providers about the specific harms of drug use among teens, whose brains are still developing.”

“This year’s Monitoring the Future data show promising signs on the declining rates of adolescent substance use, and reinforce the need to continue efforts on prevention, treatment, and recovery,” said National Drug Control Policy Acting Director Michael Botticelli. “The Obama administration remains steadfast in its commitment to reduce drug use and its consequences—and we know that the best way to reduce drug use is to prevent it from ever starting. I encourage parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors to have a conversation with a young person in their lives about making the healthy decisions that will keep them on a path toward a successful future.”

Measured for the first time in the MTF survey this year, the use of e-cigarettes is high among teens. Past-month use by eighth graders is 8.7 percent, for 10th graders is 16.2 percent, and for 12th graders is 17.1 percent. NIDA is conducting research into use patterns and health effects of e-cigarettes.
Daily cigarette smoking has steadily decreased over the past five years (by almost 50 percent) across all grades. For eighth graders, it dropped to 1.4 percent compared to 2.7 percent five years ago. Among 10th graders, it dropped to 3.2 percent compared to 6.3 percent five years ago. Among high school seniors, it dropped to 6.7 percent, down from 8.5 percent last year and 11.2 percent five years ago.

“Despite the positive developments this year, we are concerned about the levels of e-cigarette use among teens that we are seeing,” said Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., principal investigator, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. “It would be a tragedy if this product undid some of the great progress made to date in reducing cigarette smoking by teens.”

Rates of some of the newer drug trends have also dropped. There has been a considerable decline in past year use of K2/Spice in the two years the survey has been tracking its use in all three grades. For 12th graders, 5.8 percent reported its use this year, which is significantly lower than 7.9 percent last year and 11.3 percent in 2012. Use of the hallucinogen salvia among 12th graders in the past year also dropped significantly to 1.8 percent, from 3.4 percent in 2013. Past year use of the amphetamine-like stimulants known as bath salts remained at low rates, and actually dropped considerably among eighth graders, to 0.5 percent compared to 1 percent last year.

Click here to read NIDA’s Dr. Nora Volkow’s blog about the recent MTF results.