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National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 2021

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

Meet The Team >

In 2010, scientists and experts on drug and alcohol use from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) launched a public awareness campaign to offer teenagers real facts about alcohol and drug use among their peer group. The purpose of the campaign was twofold:

  1. Present teenagers with the latest data on alcohol and drugs.
  2. Refute myths and misconceptions about alcohol and drug use teenagers find online and learn from television, music, movies, social media, and their friends.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) joined the campaign in 2016, creating what we now celebrate as National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW). We’re joining the movement this year by sharing facts on the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among teens.

The 2021 Theme

This year, NDAFW takes place between March 22nd and March 28th. Organizers and advocates invite teens, parents, teachers, school administrators, public policymakers, and anyone involved in the life of teenagers to get on board with the 2021 theme…

NDAFW 2021:
About Alcohol and Drug Use

The core of the effort revolves around sharing information about alcohol and drug use among teens that’s based on research, supported by data, and published in reputable journals or presented by respected government, non-profit, and advocacy organizations.

The statistics we use here come from 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in their annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey. The MTF Survey is published every year to analyze teen drinking and drug use and predict long-term trends based on past history. The report is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers usually collect responses from about 40,000 high school students. However, this year, the study’s sample sizes were smaller due to COVID-19. Since the pandemic began early in 2020, “the University of Michigan halted research studies involving face-to-face contact on March 15 of that year.” Despite the early cut-off date, the researchers obtained data from 11,821 students in 112 schools, which is roughly a quarter of the standard MTF sample size. Nevertheless, that number satisfies the statistical criteria that for a nationally representative data set, which means that it contains sufficient information for scientists and the public to draw evidence-based conclusions on the state of nicotine, alcohol, and drug use among high school students, colleges students, and young adults in the U.S.

The Data on Teen Drinking

Let’s talk about alcohol use among teens. Below is the data from the 2020 MTF Survey on alcohol use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders below.

General Alcohol Use: Lifetime, Past Year, Past Month, and Daily/Heavy Use (8th, 10th, and 12th Graders Combined)

  • 44% said they’d had at least one drink in their lives. 26.4% said they’d been drunk at least once during their lives.
  • 38.3% said they’d had at least one drink in the past year. 22.1% said they’d been drunk during the past year.
  • 20.9% said they’d had at least one drink in the past month. 10.5% said they’d been drunk in the past month.
  • 1.3% said they’d had a drink in the past day. 10.1% said they’d had over five drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks.

Alcohol Use: Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month Use

  • 8th graders
    • Lifetime: 25.6%.
    • Past year: 20.5%.
    • Past month: 9.9%.
  • 10th graders
    • Lifetime: 46.4%
    • Past year: 40.7%
    • Past month: 20.3%
  • 12th graders
    • Lifetime: 61.5%.
    • Past year: 55.3%.
    • Past month: 33.6%

Heavy Alcohol Use: Binge Drinking Among 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders

  • Five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks:
    • 8th graders: 4.5%
    • 10th graders: 9.6%
    • 12th graders: 16.8%
  • Ten or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks:
    • 8th graders: 0.9%
    • 10th graders: 2.5%
    • 12th graders: n/a

Data on Teen Drug Use

And now, let’s talk about drug use among adolescents in 2020. The percentages given indicate “yes” answers to the question “Have you used (insert illicit drug type) in (your life, the past year, the past month, the past day)?”

Lifetime Drug Use

  • Any illicit drug
    • 21.3% of 8th graders
    • 37.3% of 10th graders
    • 46.6% of 12th graders
  • Illicit drug other than marijuana
    • 12.5% of 8th graders
    • 13.2% of 10th graders
    • 17.5% of 12th graders
  • Marijuana
    • 14.8% of 8th graders
    • 33.3% of 10th graders
    • 43.7% of 12th graders
  • Hallucinogens
    • 2.0% of 8th graders
    • 3.4% of 10th graders
    • 4.7% of 12th graders
  • Cocaine
    • 1.6% of 8th graders
    • 1.6% of 10th graders
    • 4.1% of 12th graders
  • Heroin
    • 0.5% of 8th graders
    • 0.3% of 10th graders
    • 0.4% of 12th graders
  • Amphetamines
    • 8.9% of 8th graders
    • 7.0% of 10th graders
    • 7.3% of 12th graders
  • Vaping
    • 24.1% of 8th graders
    • 41.0% of 10th graders
    • 47.2% of 12th graders

Annual (Past Year) Drug Use

  • Any illicit drug
    • 15.6% of 8th graders
    • 30.4% of 10th graders
    • 36.8% of 12th graders
  • Illicit drug other than marijuana
    • 7.7% of 8th graders
    • 8.6% of 10th graders
    • 11.4% of 12th graders
  • Marijuana
    • 11.4% of 8th graders
    • 28.0% of 10th graders
    • 35.2% of 12th graders
  • Hallucinogens
    • 1.7% of 8th graders
    • 3.4% of 10th graders
    • 5.3% of 12th graders
  • Cocaine
    • 0.5% of 8th graders
    • 1.1% of 10th graders
    • 2.9% of 12th graders
  • Heroin
    • 0.2% of 8th graders
    • 0.2% of 10th graders
    • 0.3% of 12th graders
  • Amphetamines
    • 5.3% of 8th graders
    • 4.3% of 10th graders
    • 4.3% of 12th graders
  • Vaping
    • 19.2% of 8th graders
    • 34.6% of 10th graders
    • 39.0% of 12th graders

The Big Picture

There’s good and not-so-good news in this data. First, the not-so-good news. This is something we almost always forget, overlook, or fail to mention when we talk about substance use:

With some exceptions – listed here – every teen represented as a percentage in the stats above breaks the law every time they drink alcohol or use drugs. Illicit drugs are, by definition, illegal, so any use at all among teens indicates criminal activity.

We point that out simply to remind adolescents that though substance use and underage drinking are common, they are actually illegal. Therefore, when we talk about these statistics, we’re also talking – in most cases – about criminal activity.

However, within this situation – the de facto illegal situation – data shows a significant downward trend in substance use over history.

Take alcohol use, for example. With the exception of a small spike in binge drinking in the late 1990s, it appears that all the awareness efforts, public knowledge campaigns, and anti-underage drinking initiatives mounted over the past three decades have worked. Our teens start drinking later, drink less when they do start, and engage in high-risk drinking behavior – like binge drinking – less frequently than they have since the NSDUH and MTF began collecting and publishing data in 1991. In 2020, alcohol use has finally began leveling off after a gradual decline over the past five years.

Additionally, there has been a general decrease in illicit drug use over the past twenty-five years. Like alcohol consumption among teens, illicit drug use peaked in the late 1990s and has been on a steady (albeit slow) decline, though in 2020, few illicit drugs showed significant declines in usage; most of the numbers were relatively similar to last year. One significant exception is vaping.

Vaping Finally Decreases

Vaping deserves its own special look – for the first time in three years, past-month vaping has actually decreased instead of doubling or even tripling (as it has done for some measures since 2017). For the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in vaping – vaping marijuana, vaping nicotine, and even vaping “just flavoring”. In fact, the high rates since 2017 showed “some of the largest absolute increases MTF has ever tracked for any substance.”

Now, vaping is finally reversing course. One major reason could be that after months of negative media attention on vaping-related lung disease, the FDA banned the marketing of flavored e-cigarettes to minors.

But let’s think about that: this is good news inside not-so-good news. Decrease is good, whereas illicit drug use is not-so-good.

More Facts about Substance Abuse in 2020

Here are some more facts about substance use in 2020, highlighted in our article on the MTF Survey here:

What these numbers tell us is that we need to redouble our awareness and prevention efforts – with a focus on these three areas – in our middle school population.

The Next Step: Treatment

As the numbers show, we still have a long way to go when it comes to teen substance use.

Not everyone who has a drinking or substance use problem gets the treatment they need. The difference between the people who need treatment and people who get treatment is called the treatment gap.

That gap needs to close.

That’s something we can work together to make happen.


By focusing our energy on this year’s theme: SHATTER THE MYTHS and stigma around treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders.

Together, we can and will SHATTER THE MYTHS and work to convince anyone who needs treatment to seek and receive that treatment – whether that includes residential treatment, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient treatment for substance use, addiction, or dual diagnoses.

Spread the word:

Treatment Works.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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Connect with Other Parents

We know parents need support, too. That is exactly why we offer a chance for parents of teens to connect virtually in a safe space! Each week parents meet to share resources and talk through the struggles of balancing child care, work responsibilities, and self-care.

More questions? We’re here for you.