2011 NIDA Survey Shows Teen Smoking and Alcohol Use Down

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Every year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse publishes the results of a survey designed to monitor use of addictive substances in 8th, 10th and 12th graders. The Monitoring the Future Survey asks questions about current and previous use of both legal and illegal substances.

In a press release from December 14, NIDA reports that smoking and drinking rates have fallen in these age groups, but particularly smoking. The “historically low rates” are for inhaled tobacco smoke only. Unfortunately, the use of other tobacco products (which may be seen as a safer and less visible way to abuse nicotine) is going up.

Among 12th grade students, the percentage who had smoked at least once in the past month has fallen from a high of 36.5% in 1997 to a 2011 low of 18.7%. The stats are even more dramatic for 8th graders, falling from 21% in 1996 to 6.1% in this year’s report.

The question now is whether the anti-smoking trend can be modified to include smokeless tobacco. It may be that focusing messages on the dangers of smoking has missed the larger message about tobacco in any form.

For alcohol, past-month-use has also fallen among high school students, but the percentages are still at 63% for 12th graders and 26.9% for 8th graders. That’s still a disturbing statistic – to think that more than one in four 8th graders drank alcohol in some form in the past month.

The survey also reports that marijuana use in these age groups remains fairly steady. This may answer one objection to allowing medical marijuana – that teens would get easier access. It may be the case that illegal supplies are already so ubiquitous that decriminalized marijuana doesn’t have an impact.

Prescription drug abuse was also mentioned in the report, with no clear trends up or down for the class, although some shifts in preference were noted.

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