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Stephanie Pellitt

Policy and Advocacy Associate

NIDA Survey Shows Youth Drug Use Down, Except for Marijuana

December 22, 2016 | Addictions | Comments
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According to the annual Monitoring the Future (MFT) survey, teen drug and alcohol use is at its lowest rates since the 1990s. Despite most teen drug use declining, researchers warn that marijuana use among 12th graders remains high. Every year the study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), surveys about 45,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades in 380 public and private secondary schools. Find the full press release and survey data here.


Marijuana, the most widely used of the illicit drugs, dropped in use among 8th and 10th graders in 2016, while use among high school seniors remains high and has held steady since 2011. Specifically, 36 percent of 12th graders report using marijuana in the last 12 months and 6 percent report daily or near-daily use.

Other Drugs

Teen interest in cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and prescription stimulants (Ritalin and Adderall) generally declined or held steady in 2016. Even prescription opioids have seen a strong decrease in their nonmedical use among high school seniors — the only group for whom opioids are reported in the MTF study.

In 2004, 9.5 percent of 12th graders reported nonmedical use of prescription opioids in the past year, but in 2016 this figure was down to 4.8 percent. “That’s still a lot of young people using these dangerous drugs without medical supervision, but the trending is in the right direction,” said Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator. “Fewer are risking overdosing as teenagers, and hopefully more will remain abstainers as they pass into their twenties, thereby reducing the number who become casualties in those high-risk years.”


Alcohol continues to be the most widely used substance, but it too is trending downward in 2016, continuing a longer-term decline. For all three grades, both annual and monthly prevalence of alcohol use are at historic lows over the 42-year life of the study.

Of even greater importance, measures of heavy alcohol use are also down considerably, including self- reports of having been drunk in the previous 30 days and of binge drinking in the prior two weeks (defined as having five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion). NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking for men as the consumption of 5 or more drinks, and for women as the consumption of 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.


Declines in cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco use also occurred among teens in 2016, continuing an important and now long-term trend in the use of cigarettes. These findings, along with new results on the use of vaporizers like e-cigarettes and hookah, are presented in a companion news release here.