Drug and Alcohol Facts Week: The Latest Data on Adolescent Drug Use

In 2010, a group of scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) launched an initiative to teach teenagers the real facts about drug use and drug addiction. By real facts, we – and the scientists who began the initiative – mean those facts supported by research, backed by data, and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Their goal was to enlist experts to engage with teenagers in order to debunk, discuss, and counter myths and misinformation about drugs and addiction teenagers get from the internet, television, music, movies, social media, and their friends. In 2016, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) joined the effort, and National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW) was born.

This year, NDAFW runs from Tuesday, January 22nd to Sunday, Jan 27th. We’ll contribute to the dialogue by offering helpful, information rich posts and articles filled with facts – not opinions, anecdotes, or unproven theories – about alcohol and substance use disorders (formerly known as alcoholism and drug addiction, respectively).

This post focuses on drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and contains the latest statistics from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published by the University of Michigan in their mammoth Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. We’ll offer data for three categories:

  1. Lifetime Prevalence. A “yes” answer means the respondent has used that drug at least once in their life.
  2. Annual Prevalence. A “yes” answer means the respondent used that drug at least once in the year before answering the question.
  3. 30-day Prevalence. A “yes” answer means the respondent used that drug at least once in the 30-day period before answering the question.

This post does not include data on use of prescription opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. We’ll dedicate another post to the data on those drugs.

Now, let’s get straight to the facts.

[Quick Note: The 2017 MTF survey reports the figures below for drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders for the year 2017. For comparison, we’ll include two more numbers: the difference between the 2017 numbers and those from 2016, as well as the difference between the 2017 numbers and those from 20 years ago (1997). That way, we’ll be able to get an idea of the short- and long-term trends in drug use for these age groups. For an idea of what the percentages below mean in raw numbers, think of one percentage point (1%) as roughly 50,000 kids.]

Lifetime Prevalence: Any Illicit Drug, Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Hallucinogens

A “yes” answer means the respondent has used that drug at least once in their life.

Any Illicit Drug
  • 18.2% of 8th graders said they’d tried an illicit drug at least once.
    • That’s up 1% from 2016, and down 11.2% from 1997.
  • 34.3% of 10th graders said they’d tried an illicit drug at least once.
    • That’s up 0.7% from 2016, and down 13% from 1997.
  • 48.9% of 12th graders said they’d tried an illicit drug at least once.
    • That’s up 0.6% from 2016, and down 5.4% from 1997.
Marijuana
  • 13.5% of 8th graders said they’d tried marijuana at least once.
    • That’s up 0.6% from 2016, and down 9.1% from 1997.
  • 30.7% of 10th graders said they’d tried marijuana at least once.
    • That’s up 1% from 2016, and down 11.6% from 1997.
  • 45% of 12th graders said they’d tried marijuana at least once.
    • That’s up 0.5% from 2016, and down 4.6% from 1997.
Heroin
  • 0.7% of 8th graders said they’d tried heroin at least once.
    • That’s up 0.2% from 2016, and down 1.9% from 1997.
  • 0.4% of 10th graders said they’d tried heroin at least once.
    • That’s down 0.2% from 2016, and down 2.3% from 1997.
  • 0.7% of 12th graders said they’d tried heroin at least once.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 1.4% from 1997.
Cocaine
  • 1.3% of 8th graders said they’d tried cocaine at least once.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 3.1% from 1997.
  • 2.1% of 10th graders said they’d tried cocaine at least once.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 5.0% from 1997.
  • 4.2% of 12th graders said they’d tried cocaine at least once.
    • That’s up 0.5% 2016, and down 4.5% from 1997.
Amphetamines
  • 5.7% of 8th graders said they’d tried amphetamines at least once.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 6.6% from 1997.
  • 8.2% of 10th graders said they’d tried amphetamines at least once.
    • That’s down 0.6% from 2016, and down 8.8% from 1997.
  • 9.2% of 12th graders said they’d tried amphetamines at least once.
    • That’s down 0.8% 2016, and down 7.3% from 1997.
Hallucinogens
  • 1.9% of 8th graders said they’d tried hallucinogens at least once.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 3.5% from 1997.
  • 4.2% of 10th graders said they’d tried hallucinogens at least once.
    • That’s down 0.2% from 2016, and down 6.3% from 1997.
  • 6.7% of 12th graders said they’d tried hallucinogens at least once.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 7.4% from 1997.

Annual Prevalence: Any Illicit Drug, Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Hallucinogens

A “yes” answer means the respondent used that drug at least once in the year before answering the question.

Any Illicit Drug
  • 12.9% of 8th graders said they’d used an illicit drug in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.9% from 2016, and down 9.2% from 1997.
  • 27.8% of 10th graders said used an illicit drug in the last year.
    • That’s up 1% from 2016, and down 7.2% from 1997.
  • 39.9% of 12th graders said used an illicit drug in the last year.
    • That’s up 1.6% from 2016, and down 2.5% from 1997.
Marijuana
  • 10.1% of 8th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.8% from 2016, and down 7.6% from 1997.
  • 25.5% of 10th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last year.
    • That’s up 1.6% from 2016, and down 9.3% from 1997.
  • 37.1% of 12th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last year.
    • That’s up 1.5% from 2016, and down 1.5% from 1997.
Heroin
  • 0.3% of 8th graders said they’d used heroin in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.1% from 2016, and down 1% from 1997.
  • 0.2% of 10th graders said they’d used heroin in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 1.2% from 1997.
  • 0.4% of 12th graders said they’d used heroin in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2916, and down 1.1% from 1997.
Cocaine
  • 0.5% of 8th graders said they’d used cocaine in the last year.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 1.2% from 1997.
  • 0.6% of 10th graders said they’d use cocaine in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.2% from 2016, and down 2.0% from 1997.
  • 1% of 12th graders said they’d used cocaine in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.5% from 2016, and down 4.5% from 1997.
Amphetamines
  • 3.5% of 8th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the last year.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 4.6% from 1997.
  • 5.6% of 10th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.5% from 2016, and down 6.5% from 1997.
  • 5.9% of 12th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.8% from 2016, and down 4.3% from 1997.
Hallucinogens
  • 1.1% of 8th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 2.6% from 1997.
  • 2.8% of 10th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last year.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 4.8% from 1997.
  • 4.4% of 12th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last year.
    • That’s up 0.1% since 2016, and down 5.4% from 1997.

30-Day Prevalence: Any Illicit Drug, Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine, Amphetamines, Hallucinogens

A “yes” answer means the respondent used that drug at least once in the 30-day period before answering the question.

Any Illicit Drug
  • 7.0% of 8th graders said they’d used an illicit drug in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.1% from 2016, and down 5.1% from 1997.
  • 17.2% of 10th graders said they’d used an illicit drug in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 1.3% from 2016, and down 5.8% from 1997.
  • 24.9% of 12th graders said they’d used an illicit drug in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.4% from 2016, and down 1.3% from 1997.
Marijuana
  • 5.5% of 8th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last 30 days.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 4.7% from 1997.
  • 15.7% of 10th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 1.7% from 2016, and down 4.8% from 1997.
  • 22.9% of 12th graders said they’d used marijuana in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.4% from 2016, and down 0.8% from 1997.
Heroin
  • 0.2% of 8th graders said they’d used heroin in the last 30 days.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 0.4% from 1997.
  • 0.1% of 10th graders said they’d used heroin in the last 30 days.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 0.5% from 1997.
  • 30.% of 12th graders said they’d used heroin in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.1% from 2016, and down 0.2% from 1997.
Cocaine
  • 0.4% of 8th graders said they’d used cocaine in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.1% from 2016, and down 1% from 1997.
  • 0.5% of 10th graders said they’d use cocaine in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.1% from 2016, and down 1.5% from 1997.
  • 1.2% of 12th graders said they’d used cocaine in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.3% from 2016, and down 2.2% from 1997.
Amphetamines
  • 1.7% of 8th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the last 30 days.
    • That’s the same as 2016, and down 1.6% from 1997.
  • 2.5% of 10th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the 30 days.
    • That’s down 0.2% from 2016, and down 2.6% from 1997.
  • 2.6% of 12th graders said they’d used amphetamines in the last 30 days.
    • That’s down 0.4% from 2016, and down 2.2% from 1997.
Hallucinogens
  • 0.5% of 8th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last 30 days.
    • That’s down 0.1% from 2016, and down 1.3% from 1997.
  • 1.1% of 10th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last 30 days.
    • That’s down 1.1% from 2016, and down 2.2% from 1997.
  • 1.6% of 12th graders said they’d used hallucinogens in the last 30 days.
    • That’s up 0.1% since 2016, and down 2.3% from 1997.

Takeaways From All These Numbers

Whew. That’s a lot of data.

As the parent of a teenager, however, it’s important to understand what’s going on around your child when they’re in school or at social events with their peers. You need facts, not anecdotes, click-bait headlines, or questionable posts from friends on social media. And that’s what all those statistics represent: real answers from real teens living in the real world.

What we can glean from this information is, in general, positive. The numbers say teenagers do drugs less now than they did twenty years ago – and that’s a good thing. Another good thing is the fact that over the past twenty years, drug use for 8th and 10th graders declined significantly – double digit decreases in Lifetime Prevalence for Use of Any Illicit Drug means over a million fewer early- and mid-teenagers did drugs in 2017 than in 1997.

Considering the opioid crisis sweeping the nation, that’s a ray of hope. We may be playing catch-up with opiates – and the recent (disturbing) data on teens vaping nicotine notwithstanding – but we’re doing a good job teaching our youngest and most vulnerable teens to avoid using illicit drugs.

Another positive: for 10th graders in almost every use category and across almost every drug type, the percentage of use has decreased over the past twenty years. This is reassuring because as a sample set, 10th graders can be thought of as a point of intersection. They’re not as mature as 12th graders, some of whom are already adults, and they’re more mature than 8th graders, many of whom still have one foot back in elementary school. That puts 10th graders right in the middle – our pure teens, if you will. They have access to drugs, they have unsupervised time to do drugs, but they’re doing drugs less than they were in 1997. Yes, their use increased slightly from 2016 in a few categories, but the general trend is downward, and this year’s increase is within a small range that’s been relatively stable since 2004.

We’ll end this article with a question: though the twenty-year trend in teen drug use is clearly downward, what kind of impact will the nationwide move toward the legalization of recreational marijuana have?

Only time will tell. Around this time next year, the 2018 Monitoring the Future Report will offer us a glimpse into what’s happening – and we’ll be the first to let you know.