2016 Overview of Adolescent Substance Use Data

In 2016 teen use of most drugs decreased, according to Monitoring the Future surveys of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders across the U.S. As in 2014 and 2015, cigarettes and alcohol continued to show significant declines. In 2016 they reached their lowest levels in the history of the study.


Thirty-day prevalence of vaping fell significantly in each grade in 2016. Vaping involves the inhalation of vapors (sometimes including nicotine) using devices such as e-cigarettes, “mods,” and e-pens. This marks the first reversal of vaping prevalence, which grew rapidly from near zero prevalence in 2011 to one of the most common forms of adolescent substance use.


Marijuana showed a decline in the two lower grades in 2016. Among 12th graders, however, the annual prevalence of marijuana has held quite steady for several years, increasing nonsignificantly to 36% in 2016. Marijuana attitudes among students continued to move toward greater acceptance.


Nonmedical use of psychotherapeutic drugs has either leveled or begun to decline in the past few years. The proportion of 12th graders misusing any of these prescription drugs (i.e., amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers, or narcotics other than heroin) in the prior year was 12% in 2016, down from a high of 17% in 2005.


In the three grades combined, annual prevalence also declined for synthetic marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), cocaine, crack, amphetamines, Adderall specifically, methamphetamine, heroin, Rohypnol, some psychotherapeutic drugs used without medical supervision (Vicodin, tranquilizers), steroids, and the indexes of any illicit drug and any illicit drug other than marijuana.


Some drugs showed little or no change from 2015 to 2016. These include hallucinogens, LSD specifically, hallucinogens other than LSD, salvia, tranquilizers, heroin use without a needle, crystal methamphetamine, and the club drugs GHB, rohypnol, and ketamine.


The few drugs that showed statistically significant increase were bath salts (for 8th graders), over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to get high (8th graders), and heroin used with a needle (10th graders); none of those changes were large or part of a pattern of continuing increase.


Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2017). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2016: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.