Is Teen Drug Use Declining?: Positive Predictions for 2016

For years, teen drug use has climbed the charts, with more and more high school students adopting drug using activities as part of their recreational pursuits each year. High-risk drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, and prescription painkillers have all taken seats as “drugs-of-choice” for teens over the last decade, and until now, it seemed as though the drug using epidemic had begun to take over our youth.

That is, until now. Recent 2015 data on teen drug use is actually boding well for this year. According to the NIH’s latest Monitoring the Future survey, the epidemic on teen drug use may slowly be ceasing, as overall substance abuse among ages 12-17 was quietly stable or declining throughout 2015.

teen drug trendsNora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, commented on the downward trends, “We are heartened to see that most illicit drug use is not increasing, non-medical use of prescription opioids is decreasing, and there is improvement in alcohol and cigarette use rates.”

Overall, substance use dropped to its lowest levels in 2015 as recorded by the Monitoring the Future Survey. Alcohol and cigarette use among teens, for example, dropped to an all-time low. Use of synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as K2 and Spice, decreased over 50 percent high-school age groups in 2015. Use of inhalants is another important figure to note. Typically a major concern in younger users, inhalant abuse dropped to its lowest levels yet—from 10.8 percent of adolescents to 8.7 percent in a single year.

Non-medical use of prescription drugs, another concerning behavior among adolescents and young adults, also dropped significantly. In 2003, misuse of painkillers reached 10.5 percent of teens. Today, that prescription painkiller abuse has dropped to 4.4 percent. Even heroin abuse reached its lowest levels in the history of the survey, with only 0.3 percent of eighth graders, and 0.5 percent of 10th and 12th graders using the drug. Use of party drugs like MDMA and LSD have also become less of a concern.

It is in fact reassuring to see that teen drug use prevention efforts are settling in, and American teenagers are increasingly making smarter decisions when it comes to drugs and alcohol. And while this is good news for what 2016 will bring, the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey does reveal the areas where we need to start focusing our prevention efforts. While illicit drug use among teens has declined overall, marijuana use remains high and the perception of marijuana as harmful continues to fall. 

Marijuana use among high schoolers, while stable over the past year, is still an area of concern. Current marijuana use has now exceeded cigarette use among seniors, with 6 percent of 12th graders using marijuana on a daily basis. This is not the only issue. Despite the adverse consequences marijuana has on youth and adolescent brain development, teen’s risk-perception of the drug is slight at best. Only 32 percent of high schoolers believe marijuana is harmful, down from the 36 percent just last year.

Taken into account the 2015 trends in teen drug use, there is undoubtedly hope that there is in fact a generational shift taking place regarding substance abuse and addiction. However, we must remember that teen substance abuse across America’s youth has not entirely dissipated. From 13-year olds to 18-year olds and even beyond, experimentation with drugs still maintains a strong presence in younger demographics. This is where prevention needs to be. This is where the facts need to come into play.

Adolescence is the period in which teens are most vulnerable to addiction. Teen drug use, as a result, inevitably paves the way for substance use disorders, ultimately leading to the early onset of addiction and lifelong mental, physical, and emotional consequences. While the Monitoring the Future survey has positive predictions for the future, we must not stop prevention on any front.

As Volkow explains, “We need to continue to support broad implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, train healthcare providers to identify and treat youth with substance use disorders, and empower young people with the knowledge and resources to live healthy, productive lives.”

For more resources on how to help your teen, or start treatment for your son today, contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793.