Teens Drinking Less, but Smoking Pot More



Daily cigarette smoking and binge drinking among American teenagers declined over the past year, but the use of marijuana and the abuse of prescription drugs remain a problem, data from the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey have shown.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) announced the survey findings Dec. 14 at a press conference.

The survey found that daily cigarette use, which peaked in the mid- to late 1990s, continued to drop in the past year; 2.4% of 8th graders, 5.5% of 10th graders, and 10.3% of 12th graders reported daily smoking. However, the decline in smoking has slowed in recent years, the researchers said in a press release. "These levels remain too high given the significant morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use," they said.

Alcohol use, particularly binge drinking, declined significantly among all three age groups over the last 5 years, to a 2011 prevalence of 6.4% of 8th graders, 14.7% of 10th graders, and 21.6% of 12th graders. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks in a row in the last 2 weeks.

The use of marijuana among teens climbed in 2011 for the fourth straight year, the survey found. In 2011, 12.5% of 8th graders, 28.8% of 10th graders, and 36.4% of 12th graders reported past-year use of marijuana. These numbers were not significantly different from the 2010 rates. However, the 5-year trends show increases in daily, current, and past-year marijuana use by 10th and 12th graders. The increases might be attributable, in part, to a decline in the perceived risk associated with marijuana use, the researchers suggested. For example, more high school seniors reported marijuana use than smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days (22.6% vs. 18.7%).

The use of marijuana among teens climbed in 2011 for the fourth straight year, the survey found.

In addition, the 2011 survey included first-time data on the use of synthetic marijuana, called K2 or "spice," among high school seniors. About 11.4% of high school seniors reported using spice during the past year. Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration declared many of the chemicals used in such products as schedule I drugs and deemed them unsafe for at least a year. In addition, at least 18 states have banned synthetic marijuana. "Next year’s results should tell us a lot more about how successful these new control efforts are," Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and lead investigator of the survey, said in a statement. "We know that the great majority of those who have used synthetic marijuana also used medical marijuana during the year, as well as a number of other drugs."

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications account for most of the drugs abused by 12th grade students in the past year. Nonmedical use of OxyContin remained stable across grades 8, 10, and 12, and amphetamine use increased among 12th graders, to 8.2% in 2011 from 6.6% in 2010. Nonmedical use of Vicodin remained stable among seniors, but declined among 10th graders, from 7.7% in 2010 to 5.9% in 2011.

In response to the persistent trends in prescription drug abuse, NIDA unveiled its PEERx campaign, a prevention effort that seeks to educate young people about the dangers of prescription drug use in an engaging way. The teen-friendly site features a "mixer" that shows teens what can happen if they combine prescription drugs with different activities. For example, the equation "Hot Date plus Adderall" equals a photo of a frustrated girl who comments: "He took some Adderall and got more into the video game than into me. Some date!" The site also explains the science behind drug abuse, and includes interactive videos that allow teens to make different choices about illicit use of prescription drugs in various situations (such as taking a stimulant the night before a big test) and view the possible outcomes.

The annual Monitoring the Future survey tracks annual drug abuse trends among U.S. teenagers via responses from 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students to questions about drug use, including attitudes and perceived risks. About 47,000 students participated in the 2011 survey. The lead investigators are all affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

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