2015 Monitoring the Future Study Finds Fewer Teens Using Substances

The results from the 2015 Monitoring the Future study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and conducted by a research team at the University of Michigan, on substance use and related attitudes by American teenagers show that prevention works.

The use of both alcohol and cigarettes reached their lowest points since the study began in 1975. Use of several particularly dangerous illicit drugs—including MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), heroin, amphetamines and synthetic marijuana—also showed a decline this year. Binge drinking declined significantly in 2015.

Dr. Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator, said, “The efforts by communities have had an effect in reducing access for young people in alcohol, tobacco.”

NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, agreed. “We should learn from our successes with other drug prevention and continue our prevention efforts, particularly targeting teenagers.”

Tobacco use is at its lowest in two decades, which is good news. But the bad news is that alternative tobacco product use such as flavored cigarellos and electronic cigarettes is increasing, the study found.

Marijuana, the most widely used of the illicit drugs, did not show any significant change in annual prevalence this year in any of the three grades, nor in the three grades combined, however, Johnston also noted that the percent of students who see regular marijuana use as carrying a great risk of harm has declined substantially since about 2005, and is still declining.

This year, 12 percent of 8th ­graders, 25 percent of 10th­ graders and 35 percent of 12th­ graders reported using marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months. Of most concern to both researchers and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) is daily or near-­daily marijuana use (defined as smoking marijuana on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days). This rate stands at 6 percent in 12th grade, with approximately one in every 16 high school seniors smoking marijuana on a daily basis.

“We commend the students who are not smoking, drinking and using drugs. But we are concerned about the rise in alternative tobacco products and the high number of teens who use marijuana regularly. These findings should concern parents, educators or anyone who cares about the ability of youth to succeed and thrive in our society,” said Gen. Arthur T. Dean, CADCA’s Chairman and CEO. “We need a greater investment in effective programs like the Drug-Free Communities program.”

In the midst of the national opioid crisis, 2015 MTF data shows teen abuse of medicines is down across all types of medications.

“We are very encouraged by reductions in youth prescription drug abuse, especially opioids, at a time when adults are using and dying at epidemic levels,” said Sue Thau, CADCA’s Public Policy Consultant. “In the Drug-Free Community Support Program’s 2014 National Evaluation, there were major reductions in both middle and high school youth use of prescription drugs and an increase in the perception harm. This demonstrates that comprehensive, community-based prevention strategies work.”