Teen use of any illicit drug other than marijuana at new low, same true for alcohol

6347809375_ec4ddee347_bANN ARBOR—Teenagers’ use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco declined significantly in 2016 at rates that are at their lowest since the 1990s, a new national study showed.

But University of Michigan researchers cautioned that while these developments are “trending in the right direction,” marijuana still remains high for 12th-graders.

The results derive from the annual Monitoring the Future study, now in its 42nd year. About 45,000 students in some 380 public and private secondary schools have been surveyed each year in this national study, designed and conducted by research scientists at U-M’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Students in grades 8, 10 and 12 are surveyed.

Overall, the proportion of secondary school students in the country who used any illicit drug in the prior year fell significantly between 2015 and 2016. The decline in narcotic drugs is of particular importance, the researchers say. This year’s improvements were particularly concentrated among 8th- and 10th-graders.

Considerably fewer teens reported using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months—5 percent, 10 percent and 14 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively—than at any time since 1991. These rates reflect a decline of about one percentage point in each grade in 2016, but a much larger decline over the longer term.

In fact, the overall percentage of teens using any of the illicit drugs other than marijuana has been in a gradual, long-term decline since the last half of the 1990s, when their peak rates reached 13 percent, 18 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Marijuana, the most widely used of the illicit drugs, dropped sharply in 2016 in use among 8th-graders to 9.4 percent, or about one in every 11 indicating any use in the prior 12 months. Use also declined among 10th-graders as well, though not by a statistically significant amount, to 24 percent or about one in every four 10th-graders.

The annual prevalence of marijuana use (referring to the percentage using any marijuana in the prior 12 months) has been declining gradually among 8th-graders since 2010, and more sharply among 10th-graders since 2013. Among 12th-graders, however, the prevalence of marijuana use is higher (36 percent) and has held steady since 2011. These periods of declining use (or in the case of 12th-graders, stabilization) followed several years of increasing use by each of these age groups.

Daily or near-daily use of marijuana—defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the previous 30 days—also declined this year among the younger teens (significantly so in 8th grade to 0.7 percent and to 2.5 percent among 10th-graders). However, there was no change among 12th-graders in daily use, which remains quite high at 6 percent or roughly one in every 17 12th-graders—about where it has been since 2010.

Prescription amphetamines and other stimulants used without medical direction have constituted the second-most widely used class of illicit drugs used by teens. Their use has fallen considerably, however. In 2016, 3.5 percent, 6.1 percent and 6.7 percent of 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders, respectively, say they have used any in the prior 12 months—down from recent peak levels of 9 percent, 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively, reached during the last half of the 1990s.

Prescription narcotic drugs have presented a serious problem for the country in recent years, with increasing numbers of overdose deaths and emergencies resulting from their use. Fortunately, the use of these drugs outside of medical supervision has been in decline, at least among high school seniors—the only ones for whom narcotics use is reported. In 2004, a high proportion of 12th-graders—9.5 percent, or nearly one in 10—indicated using a prescription narcotic in the prior 12 months, but today that percentage is down by half to 4.8 percent.

“That’s still a lot of young people using these dangerous drugs without medical supervision, but the trending is in the right direction,” said Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator. “Fewer are risking overdosing as teenagers, and hopefully more will remain abstainers as they pass into their twenties, thereby reducing the number who become casualties in those high-risk years.”

Users of narcotic drugs without medical supervision were asked where they get the drugs they use. About four in every 10 of the past-year users indicated that they got them “from a prescription I had.”

“That suggests that physicians and dentists may want to consider reducing the number of doses they routinely prescribe when giving these drugs to their patients, and in particular to teenagers,” Johnston said.

Heroin is another narcotic drug of obvious importance. There is no evidence in the study that the use of heroin has risen as the use of prescription narcotics has fallen—at least not in this population of adolescents still in school, who represent over 90 percent of their respective age groups.

In fact, heroin use among secondary school students also has declined substantially since recent peak levels reached in the late 1990s. Among 8th-graders, the annual prevalence of heroin use declined from 1.6 percent in 1996 to 0.3 percent in 2016. And among 12th-graders, the decline was from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2016.

“So, among secondary school students, at least, there is no evidence of heroin coming to substitute for prescription narcotic drugs—a dynamic that apparently has occurred in other populations,” Johnston said. “Certainly there will be individual cases where that happens, but overall the use of heroin and prescription narcotics both have declined appreciably and largely in parallel among secondary school students.”

The ecstasy epidemic, which peaked at about 2001, was a substantial one for teens and young adults, Johnston said. Ecstasy is a form of MDMA (methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) as is the much newer form on the scene, “Molly.”

“The use of MDMA has generally been declining among teens since about 2010 or 2011, and it continued to decrease significantly in 2016 in all three grades even with the inclusion of Molly in the question in more recent years,” Johnston said.

MDMA’s annual prevalence now stands at about 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively.

Synthetic marijuana (often sold over the counter as “K-2” or “Spice”) continued its rapid decline in use among teens since its use was first measured in 2011. Among 12th-graders, for example, annual prevalence has fallen by more than two-thirds, from 11.4 percent in 2011 to 3.5 percent in 2016. Twelfth-graders have been showing an increased appreciation of the dangers associated with these drugs. It also seems likely that fewer students have access to these synthetic drugs, as many states and communities have outlawed their sale by retail outlets.

Bath salts constitute another class of synthetic drugs sold over the counter. Their annual prevalence has remained quite low—at 1.3 percent or less in all grades—since they were first included in the study in 2012. One of the very few statistically significant increases in use of a drug this year was for 8th-graders’ use of bath salts (which are synthetic stimulants), but their annual prevalence is still only 0.9 percent with no evidence of a progressive increase.

A number of other illicit drugs have shown declining use, as well. Among them are cocaine, crack, sedatives and inhalants (the declining prevalence rates for these drugs may be seen in the tables and figures associated with this release.)


The use of alcohol by adolescents is even more prevalent than the use of marijuana, but it, too, is trending downward in 2016, continuing a longer-term decline. For all three grades, both annual and monthly prevalence of alcohol use are at historic lows over the life of the study. Both measures continued to decline in all three grades in 2016.

Of even greater importance, measures of heavy alcohol use are also down considerably, including self-reports of having been drunk in the previous 30 days and of binge drinking in the prior two weeks (defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion).

Binge drinking has fallen by half or more at each grade level since peak rates were reached at the end of the 1990s. Today, the proportions who binge drink are 3 percent, 10 percent and 16 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively.

“Since 2005, 12th-graders have also been asked about what we call ‘extreme binge drinking,’ defined as having 10 or more drinks in a row or even 15 or more, on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks,” Johnston said. “Fortunately, the prevalence of this particularly dangerous behavior has been declining as well.”

In 2016, 4.4 percent of 12th-graders reported drinking at the level of 10 or more drinks in a row, down by about two-thirds from 13 percent in 2006.

Rates of daily drinking among teens has also fallen considerably over the same intervals. Flavored alcoholic beverages and alcoholic beverages containing caffeine have both declined appreciably in use since each was first measured—again, particularly among the younger teens, where significant declines in annual prevalence continued into 2016.


Declines in cigarette smoking and certain other forms of tobacco use also occurred among teens in 2016, continuing an important and now long-term trend in the use of cigarettes. These findings, along with new results on the use of vaporizers like e-cigarettes and hookah, are presented in a companion news release: myumi.ch/LEDoK

The findings summarized here will be published in January in a forthcoming volume. The statistical breakdown by states are not available.

Monitoring the Future


Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819, jwadley@umich.edu

Janice Lee, 734-647-1083, mtfinformation@umich.edu

Vaping, hookah use by US teens declines for first time

young woman smoking electronic cigarette on black background

Photo credit: Thinkstock

ANN ARBOR—Teens are lighting up less often when it comes to e-cigarettes and hookahs.

A new study finds that the percentage of U.S. teens who vape declined in 2016—the first significant reversal of a rapid rise in adolescent vaping. The rate grew from near-zero levels of use in 2011 to one of the most common forms of adolescent substance use by 2015, researchers said.

From 2015 to 2016, the percentage of adolescents who vaped in the last 30 days declined from 16 percent to 13 percent among 12th-grade students, from 14 percent to 11 percent among 10th-grade students, and from 8 percent to 6 percent among 8th-grade students. Each of these declines was statistically significant.

These findings come from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, which tracks trends in substance use among students in 12th, 10th and 8th grades. Each year the national study, now in its 42nd year, surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in about 400 public and private secondary schools throughout the United States.

The survey includes questions on the use of vaping devices, which are battery-powered devices with a heating element that produce an aerosol, or vapor, inhaled by users. The vapors come in thousands of flavors, including options such as bubble gum and milk chocolate cream, which are likely attractive to younger teens.

“Whether adolescent vaping has peaked or only paused is something we will be able to determine in the coming years,” said Richard Miech, a senior investigator in the Monitoring the Future project. “In the past, we have seen new drugs follow a pattern in which use increases at a fast pace during a honeymoon period and then reverses course and declines as knowledge of the substance’s drawbacks became known.”

Adolescents associated slightly greater potential harm with vaping in 2016 than they did the previous year, although overall they don’t see them as particularly dangerous to use.

E-cigarettes are the most common vaping device, and from 2015 to 2016, the percentage of adolescents who believe that regular e-cigarette use poses a risk of harm increased from 16 percent to 18 percent in 12th grade, from 17 percent to 19 percent in 10th grade, and from 19 percent to 21 percent in 8th grade.

One potential harm of vaping is that it may lead to use of regular cigarettes. Miech, who has written on the subject, notes that an increasing number of studies show that vaping predicts future cigarette smoking, even among adolescents who had little predisposition to smoke when they started vaping.

“Vaping may lead to friendship networks that encourage vapers to smoke,” he said. “Also, vapers may come to believe the dangers of smoking are exaggerated if they do not experience any immediate health consequences from vaping.”

Hookah use

young man smokes a fragrant hookah

Photo credit: Thinkstock/Okopiniy

Hookah use among U.S. 12th-grade students also declined in 2016, the first significant drop since the survey began tracking hookah use in 2010. From 2015 to 2016, use of a hookah in the past 12 months fell by more than one-third, from 20 percent to 13 percent among 12th-grade students (the survey tracks use only among 12th-grade students).

A hookah user breathes in through a mouthpiece attached to a rubber hose in order to inhale tobacco smoke that passes through water. The tobacco smoke inhaled by a hookah user is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke.

“Hookah use and vaping are two alternative cigarette products that rank among the most commonly used among U.S. youth,” Miech said. “The decline in their use is important so that any reduction in cigarette smoking among U.S. teens is a real reduction in nicotine consumption, and not just a change from one form of nicotine use to another.”


Teenage girl smoking

Photo credit: PIKSEL/iStock

Cigarette smoking among teens in grades 12, 10 and 8 continued a decades long decline in 2016 and reached the lowest levels recorded since annual tracking began 42 years ago. From 2015 to 2016, the percentage of youth who smoked in the past 30 days fell from 11.4 percent to 10.5 percent among 12th-grade students, from 6.3 percent to 4.9 percent among 10th-grade students, and from 3.6 percent to 2.6 percent among 8th-grade students. The one-year declines in 10th and 8th grade were statistically significant.

“Since the peak year in 1997, the proportion of students currently smoking has dropped by more than three quarters—an extremely important development for the health and longevity of this generation of Americans,” said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study.

Such a reduction can translate eventually into preventing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths as well as many serious diseases, he said. More than 400,000 Americans per year are estimated to die prematurely as a result of smoking cigarettes.

Concerted efforts to reduce youth smoking appear to be paying off. These have included increased taxes on tobacco products, restrictions on advertising and promotion, limiting where smoking is permitted, broad based anti-smoking ad campaigns, educational programs in schools, removal of added flavoring to cigarettes (except menthol), and quit smoking programs and products becoming more available. Increases in the price of cigarettes charged by manufacturers have also played an important role.

“While the improvements in the smoking numbers for just this one year are important, of course, the longer term declines are much more so,” Johnston said. “Since teen smoking reached a peak around 1996-1997, the levels of past 30-day smoking have fallen by nearly 80 percent among 8th- and 10th-graders, and by more than 70 percent among 12th-graders. Further, the proportional declines in daily smoking are even larger.”

One important cause of these declines in current smoking is that many fewer young people today have ever started to smoke. In 1996, 49 percent of 8th-graders said they had tried cigarettes, but by 2016 only 10 percent said they had done so—a drop of almost 80 percent in smoking initiation over the past two decades.

Illicit Drugs and Alcohol

Declines in almost all illicit drugs took place in 2016, including marijuana use among 8th- and 10th-grade students, synthetic marijuana and ecstasy. Alcohol use, including binge drinking, also declined. These findings, along with more results on these and other substances, are presented in a companion news release: myumi.ch/JYX4A

The findings summarized here will be published in January in a forthcoming volume. The statistical breakdown by states are not available.

Monitoring the Future


Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819, jwadley@umich.edu

Janice Lee, 734-647-1083, mtfinformation@umich.edu

Teen smoking continues to decline

Monitoring the FutureANN ARBOR— The 2012 national survey results from the Monitoring the Future study show a continuation of the declines in teen smoking in all three grades under study—grades 8, 10, and 12. Based on annual surveys of 45,000 to 50,000 students, the researchers found that the percentage saying that they smoked at all in the prior 30 days fell for the three grades combined, from 11.7% to 10.6%—a statistically significant drop.

“A one percentage-point decline may not sound like a lot, but it represents about a 9% reduction in a single year in the number of teens currently smoking,” observed Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study. “Such a reduction can translate eventually into thousands of premature deaths being prevented, as well as tens of thousands of serious diseases.” More than 400,000 Americans per year are estimated to die prematurely as a result of their smoking cigarettes; and most smokers begin their habit in adolescence. Continue reading

Rise in teen marijuana use stalls

Monitoring the FutureANN ARBOR— National samples of 45,000 to 50,000 students in three grades (8, 10, and 12) have been surveyed every year since 1991 as part of the nationwide Monitoring the Future study. Among the most important findings from this year’s survey of U.S. secondary school students are the following:

Marijuana. After four straight years of increasing use among teens, annual marijuana use showed no further increase in any of the three grades surveyed in 2012. The 2012 annual prevalence rates (i.e., percent using in the prior 12 months) were 11%, 28%, and 36% for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, respectively. (Among the 8th graders there was a modest decline across the past two years—from 13.7% in 2010 to 11.4% in 2012—that reached statistical significance.) Continue reading

David Harding: Interrogating the truth of the American Dream

David HardingPart of the fun—and challenge—of field research is coping with the odd curve ball. For sociologist David Harding, one episode in particular stands out.

It was the summer of 2003, and Harding, then pursuing his doctorate in sociology and social policy at Harvard, was trying to recruit 60 8- to 13-year-old boys from three poor, mostly African-American neighborhoods in Boston to interview in-depth. Continue reading

Working a lot in high school can short-change students’ future

girl reading (Photo by Thinkstock)

High school students who work more than 15 hours a week during the school year may be short-changing their futures, risking long-term education and health.

New research from the University of Michigan, tracking young adults through their 20s nationwide, suggests that long hours at a job during 12th grade contribute to lower rates of college completion and may heighten the risk of chronic cigarette use. Continue reading