Teen Substance Use: A Statistical Overview

Concerns about teenage drug use have evolved beyond traditional worries, particularly with the emergence of fentanyl contributing to record-high fatal overdose rates in the United States. Despite these alarming trends, recent research indicates some positive developments in adolescent substance use amidst the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the latest Monitoring the Future survey, which has provided insights into youth substance use since 1975, illicit drug consumption among American teens has remained relatively stable, with notable decreases in alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine use among certain age groups.

Here’s a breakdown of the key findings from the survey:

  1. Alcohol, Marijuana, and Nicotine Vaping: These substances continue to be the most commonly used among teens, albeit at levels lower than pre-pandemic times. While marijuana use remained steady since 2021, alcohol use among 12th-graders decreased from 52% to 46% in 2023. Nicotine vaping also saw significant declines among 10th- and 12th-graders.
  2. Other Drug Use: Lifetime use of cigarettes showed a slight downward trend across all grade levels, reaching historically low levels in 2023. Additionally, the survey reported relatively low lifetime prevalence rates for drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and hallucinogens among teens.
  3. Delta-8 THC: A new addition to the survey, delta-8 THC, gained attention among 12th-graders in 2023. Approximately 11% reported using delta-8 over the past year, with higher prevalence in states where recreational marijuana is not legalized.
  4. ADHD Medications: While there was a slight decline in the use of ADHD medications among 12th-graders in 2023, it remained relatively stable among 8th- and 10th-graders. This shift may be attributed to increased stress during the pandemic or heightened awareness of attention issues while sheltering at home.
  5. Illicit Prescription Drug Use: The survey found a decrease in the use of prescription drugs without a doctor’s orders among 12th-graders, aligning with trends observed since the onset of the pandemic.

These findings underscore the importance of ongoing monitoring and intervention efforts to address substance use among adolescents. Despite some encouraging trends, the prevalence of certain substances and the emergence of new ones highlight the need for continued vigilance and support for youth substance abuse prevention initiatives.

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