Monitoring the Future by NIDA: Teen alcohol and drug use data from a national survey

Teen drug useOne of the perks of being an alcohol, drug use, and addiction researcher, as well as of writing for a website like this and Psychology Today, is that sometimes we get to talk to people that most can’t reach or to receive information that others might not have access to. NIDA‘s Monitoring the Future, a national survey of about 50,000 teens between 8th and 12th grades is a huge annual undertaking the results of which will be released tomorrow for general consumption.

But we got a little sneak peek before everyone else.

If you follow this sort of stuff, you know that teen alcohol and drug use is always shifting as new drugs become more popular and others lose favor with that group of Americans that can’t make up their minds. This year seems to give us more of the same.

Monitoring the future: Early alcohol and drug use results

  1. Daily marijuana use, after being on the decline for a short while is apparently rising once again among teens, following last year’s continuing trend of a reduction in teens’ perceptions of marijuana harmfulness – We’ve written on A3 about some of the specific issues relevant to marijuana use including writing about Marijuana’s addictive potential and its medical benefit. There’s no doubt that the national marijuana debate will continue but the idea of 8th graders smoking weed doesn’t seem to be part of anyone’s plan.
  2. Among some groups of teens drug use is proving more popular than smoking cigarettes – I guess this could be taken as evidence of the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns, though until we see the full numbers I’m not going to comment any further on that.
  3. While Vicodin use among high-school seniors (12th graders) is apparently down, non-medical use of prescription medications is still generally high among teens, continuing a recent upward trend – Abuse of prescription stimulants has been on the rise for a number of years as the number of prescriptions for ADHD goes up, increasing access. It is interesting to see Vicodin use go down though the data I’ve received says nothing about abuse of other prescription opiate medications such as oxycontin, so I’m not sure if the trend has to do with a general decrease in prescription opiate abuse among teens.
  4. Heroin injection rates up among high-school seniors (12th graders) – I think everyone will agree that this is a troubling trend no matter what your stance on drug use policy. The associated harms that go along with injecting drugs should be enough for us to worry about this, but again, I’ll reserve full judgment until I actually see the relevant numbers. I’m also wondering if this is a regional phenomenon or a more general trend throughout the United States.
  5. Binge drinking of alcohol is down – As we’ve written before, the vast majority of problems associated with the over consumption of alcohol (binge drinking) among high-school students has to do with the trouble they get themselves in while drunk (pregnancies, DUI accidents, and the likes), so this is an encouraging trend though hopefully it isn’t simply accounting for the above mentioned increases in marijuana and heroin use.

Some general thoughts on NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future results

I am generally a fan of broad survey information because it gets at trends that we simply can’t predict any other way and gives us a look at the overall population rather than having to make an educated guess from a very small sample in a lab. NIDA‘s annual MTF survey is no different although until I get to see all of the final numbers (at which point there will probably be a follow-up to this article) it’s hard to make any solid conclusions. Nevertheless, I am happy to see binge drinking rates among teens going down and if it wasn’t for that pesky increase in heroin injection rates I would say that overall the survey makes it look like things are on the right tracks.

I’ve written about it before and will certainly repeat it again – I personally think that alcohol and drug use isn’t the problem we should be focusing on exclusively since it’s chronic alcohol and drug abuse and addiction that produce the most serious health and criminal problems. Unfortunately, drug use is what we get to ask about because people don’t admit to addiction and harmful abuse because of the inherent stigma. Therefore, I think that it’s important for us to continue to monitor alcohol and drug use while observing for changes in reported abuse and addiction patterns. Hopefully by combining these efforts we can get a better idea of what drugs are causing increased harm and which are falling by the wayside or producing improved outcomes in terms of resisting the development of abuse problems.

3 Replies to “Monitoring the Future by NIDA: Teen alcohol and drug use data from a national survey”

  1. I read the above report also and agree it is preliminary. If, indeed, use of prescription pills by young people is down I believe it is because it is getting too expensive and these kids are “forced” to move to heroin because it is cheaper, thus the increase in the heroin use. So, to me it is not really a change in habit, just substitution, same thought process.
    Anyway, in my experience in dealing with many loved ones of addicts and alcoholics, this is not just regional and it is still a crisis, no matter what the statistics seem to show. I’ve never seen such across the board and socio economic “craziness” as seems to be showing up now. The face of addiction has really changed over the past few years. Huge amounts of cases slip through as not a “statistic”. For instance, is the death of a kid who has been using oxycontin for months attributed to an accident because he drove himself into a tree but there were no drugs detected in his system at the time? Brain and judgement impairment aren’t taken into consideration with this kind of statistic.
    Sorry, It is just getting more and more difficult to see so much death and so many lives ruined and accept that “things are looking better”.

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