The teenage years are a period of growth and exploration. It’s a time when we move out of the constricted and protected world of home and school and into a larger world – full of adventure and, yes, danger. Part of the danger is not having solid information to rely on. Peer pressure and limited experience act together, putting teens at risk of making bad choices out of ignorance.
Teens do not set out to become drug teen addicts. They start out either seeking excitement or wanting to fit in; or just looking to escape boredom. Drugs are there to answer the demand. Make no mistake about it, drugs of abuse do provide the fun and adventure teens crave – until the unanticipated bill comes due and another life is wrecked.
Prevalence of drugs in the teen population
The Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF)1 is a yearly survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students. It is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and measures trends in the high school population.
Some results from 2009:
- Smoking (any cigarettes in the last month)
- A low of 7% for 10th graders that rises to 20% by 12th grade. Tobacco use has been falling over the past decade.
- Marijuana (use in the past year)
- Marijuana accounts for the vast majority of illicit drug use in teens. While 37% report the use of some illegal substance (not cigarettes, alcohol or prescription drugs) about 33% report marijuana. Because teens may use more than one drug, the survey also asked about “drugs other than marijuana” and the overall percentage was 17%.
- Alcohol (use in the past month)
- Alcohol and binge drinking remains the most popular drug of abuse in the teen population. 44% of 12th graders reported using alcohol with binge drinking running at 8% for 8th graders and 25% for 12th graders. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks in a row at least once during the past two weeks.
- Prescription Drugs (obtained without a prescription)
- These remain a cause for concern and their use runs at 10% or less among 12th graders. There is one exception – Oxycontin, which has been tried by 20% of those surveyed.
- Illicit Drugs (other than marijuana)
- At 17%, about one in six high school seniors have tried a more serious, or ‘hard, drug. This category includes Ecstasy, Methamphetamines, Heroin, Cocaine and others.
Changing perceptions of drugs
Probably just as significant as the numbers who have tried various substances is the way teens view the dangers of drug abuse. The rate of smoking tobacco has fallen, while marijuana is seen as not very dangerous, and the rate of marijuana use has risen. This might be a result of campaigns against smoking cigarettes and in some States, the legalization of marijuana for medical use. Other classes of drugs that are seen as safer than in the past are hallucinogens like Ecstasy and LSD.
photo by Sophia Spivak
- Monitoring the Future Survey, 2009 [PDF file]