National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week 2020 Part Two: Drug Use Among Adolescents

This year, National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week takes place between March 30th and April 5th. 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 theme for 2020:

NDAFW 2020:

SHATTER THE MYTHS

About Alcohol and Drug Use

This is our second article for NDAFW 2020. Our first article gave a quick history of NDAFW, discussed this year’s theme, and presented the latest statistics on alcohol use among adolescents. We also introduced the concept of the treatment gap that exists between teens who need help with an alcohol use disorder and teens who get that help. We’ll talk about ways to close the treatment gap in the last article in this series. This article follows up on the alcohol use data from the first post with the latest statistics on illicit drug use.

Get ready: there’s a lot of data coming your way.

The Data on Teen Drug Use

These statistics come from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), published by the University of Michigan in their annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey. The MTF survey is an important resource because the sample size is large – over 42,500 students, distributed evenly across three grades – and researchers collect data every year. That’s how we can track trends in alcohol and drug use over time, and make evidence-based changes to existing policies or create new policies and practices to fit the facts as they exist in the real world.

Without further ado, here’s the data the 2019 MTF Survey on drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders below. The percentages 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
    • 20.4% of 8th graders
    • 37.5% of 10th graders
    • 47.4% of 12th graders
  • Illicit drug other than marijuana
    • 10.8% of 8th graders
    • 13.8% of 10th graders
    • 18.4% of 12th graders
  • Marijuana
    • 15.2% of 8th graders
    • 34.0% of 10th graders
    • 43.7% of 12th graders
  • Vaping Marijuana
    • 9.0% of 8th graders (4.0% in 2017, 5.5% in 2018)
    • 21.8% of 10th graders (9.8% in 2017, 14.2% in 2018)
    • 23.7% of 12th graders (11.9% in 2017, 15.6% in 2018)
  • Hallucinogens
    • 2.4% of 8th graders
    • 4.7% of 10th graders
    • 6.9% of 12th graders
  • Cocaine
    • 1.2% of 8th graders
    • 2.5% of 10th graders
    • 3.8% of 12th graders
  • Heroin
    • 0.7% of 8th graders
    • 0.4% of 10th graders
    • 0.6% of 12th graders
  • Amphetamines
    • 6.8% of 8th graders
    • 8.2% of 10th graders
    • 7.7% of 12th graders

The most interesting numbers from this set of statistics are those around vaping marijuana. For all three grade levels, vaping marijuana doubled over the past three years. The reason is relatively obvious: vaping is novel, availability is increasing around the country, and in some states, marijuana is now legal.

Annual (Past Year) Drug Use

  • Any illicit drug
    • 14.8% of 8th graders
    • 31.0% of 10th graders
    • 38.0% of 12th graders
  • Illicit drug other than marijuana
    • 6.5% of 8th graders
    • 9.1% of 10th graders
    • 11.5% of 12th graders
  • Marijuana
    • 11.8% of 8th graders
    • 28.8% of 10th graders
    • 35.7% of 12th graders
  • Vaping Marijuana
    • 7.0% of 8th graders (3.0% in 2017, 4.4% in 2018)
    • 20.8% of 10th graders (19.3% in 2017, 24.7% in 2018)
    • 20.3% of 12th graders (20.6% in 2017, 25.7% in 2018)
  • Hallucinogens
    • 1.3% of 8th graders
    • 3.1% of 10th graders
    • 4.6% of 12th graders
  • Cocaine
    • 0.7% of 8th graders
    • 1.5% of 10th graders
    • 2.2% of 12th graders
  • Heroin
    • 0.3% of 8th graders
    • 0.3% of 10th graders
    • 0.4% of 12th graders
  • Amphetamines
    • 4.1% of 8th graders
    • 5.2% of 10th graders
    • 4.5% of 12th graders

In this set, we see something different with vaping marijuana: it doubles for 8th graders, but decreases for 10th and 12th graders. One possible explanation is the significant media attention on vaping-related lung disease.

Thirty Day (Past Month) Drug Use

  • Any illicit drug
    • 8.5% of 8th graders
    • 19.8% of 10th graders
    • 23.7% of 12th graders
  • Illicit drug other than marijuana
    • 3.4% of 8th graders
    • 4.3% of 10th graders
    • 5.3% of 12th graders
  • Marijuana
    • 6.6% of 8th graders
    • 18.4% of 10th graders
    • 22.3% of 12th graders
  • Vaping Marijuana
    • 3.9% of 8th graders (1.6% in 2017, 2.6% in 2018)
    • 12.6% of 10th graders (4.3% in 2017, 7.0% in 2018)
    • 14.0% of 12th graders (4.9% in 2017, 7.5% in 2018)
  • Hallucinogens
    • 0.6% of 8th graders
    • 1.3% of 10th graders
    • 1.88% of 12th graders
  • Cocaine
    • 0.3% of 8th graders
    • 0.6% of 10th graders
    • 1.0% of 12th graders
  • Heroin
    • 0.1% of 8th graders
    • 0.2% of 10th graders
    • 0.3% of 12th graders
  • Amphetamines
    • 2.2% of 8th graders
    • 2.4% of 10th graders
    • 2.0% of 12th graders

In this last data set, marijuana vaping gets our attention again: past month use among all three grades tripled over the past three years. And again, this makes sense for the reasons mentioned above. The novelty of vaping, the increasing availability and popularity, and the legalization of marijuana in many states likely contribute. That’s our analysis, based on what we see in these numbers and publicly available information. However, we fully acknowledge we might be wrong about why vaping marijuana has increased at those rates over the past three years.

The Big Picture

The data on alcohol use among teens, reported in our first article in this series, contained good news and not-so-good news. The not-so-good news first: illicit drugs are, by definition, illegal, so any use at all among teens indicates criminal activity.

That’s not so good.

And that’s easy to forget when scrolling through pages of data.

For instance, we identify the good news as a general decrease in illicit drug use over the past twenty-five years. Like alcohol use among teens, illicit drug use peaked in the late 1990s and has declined steadily since. But let’s think about that: it’s good news inside not-so-good news. Decrease is good, whereas illicit drug use is not-so-good.

Our role mental health professionals at an adolescent mental health and substance use disorder treatment center predisposes us to optimism, though. We meet people when they need help with difficult things, like emotional, mood, and behavioral disorders or alcohol/drug problems. We meet them there and help them create a path forward. Our treatments are evidence-based, but our attitude is hope-based. Hope for our teens, hope for our families, and hope for their future. That’s why we’re optimists. We believe we can help every one of our teenagers create the life of their choosing, and we know that once they create that life for themselves, they can not only live, but thrive.

Next up in our series of articles for National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week:

“Closing the Treatment Gap”