Monitoring the Future: 2016 data on teen substance use

This week Drs. Lloyd Johnston and Richard Miech, senior investigators from the Monitoring the Future study, gave press conferences in Washington to release the 2016 MTF findings for substance use among US teens. Other speakers were Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy.


Overall, teen substance use declined significantly in 2016. Rates for drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use are at their lowest since the 1990s in each of the grades surveyed (8th, 10th, and 12th). Teen use of narcotics has seen an especially important decline. The main exception is marijuana use, which remains high among 12th graders.


Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug. Students reporting any marijuana use in the past year dropped among 8th and 10th graders but remained steady at 36 percent among 12th graders. Similarly, near-daily use dropped significantly in 8th and 12th grades but remained at 6 percent among 12th graders. This means that about 1 in 17 high school seniors get high almost daily or daily, on average about 1 to 2 in each classroom.


Past-year prescription narcotics use without medical supervision dropped from 9.5 percent in 2004 to 4.8 percent in 2016 among 12th graders. “That’s still a lot of young people using these dangerous drugs without medical supervision, but the trending is in the right direction,” said Lloyd Johnston. Four in 10 said that they got the drugs from a prescription they had. Past-year use of heroin has also declined, from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2016 among 12th graders, and does not appear to be serving as a substitute for the declining use of prescription narcotics.


Teens who reported using an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past year stood at 5 percent for 8th graders, 10 percent for 10th graders, and 14 percent for 12th graders in 2016, following a gradual decline for about two decades. In the late 1990s the rates stood at 13, 18, and 21 percent for the three grades.


Prescription amphetamines and other stimulants used without medical direction are the second-most widely used class of illicit drugs among teens. Use in the past year dropped to 3.5 percent for 8th graders, 6.1 percent for 10th graders, and 6.7 percent for 12th graders (compared to 9, 12, and 11 percent in the late 1990s).


Alcohol use continued a long-term decline in each grade. Binge drinking (5+ drinks in one sitting) in the past two weeks was reported by 3, 10, and 16 percent in grades 8, 10, and 12, down by half or more since the 1990s. High-intensity drinking (10+ drinks) in the past two weeks was at 4.4 percent for 12th graders in 2016. Down two-thirds from 13 percent in 2006, this dangerous form of drinking still concerns about 1 in 20 high school seniors.


Cigarette smoking among teens continued a long decline and reached the lowest levels recorded since annual tracking began 42 years ago. Since 1997, the proportion of students currently smoking has dropped by more than three quarters. The percentage who smoked in the past 30 days are at 2.6 percent among 8th graders, 4.9 percent among 10th graders, and 10.5 percent among 12th graders.


Hookah use and vaping both declined in the past year. Annual hookah use fell from 20 to 13 percent among 12th graders in one year. A hookah user inhales tobacco smoke that has passed through water and is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke. Vaping, or inhaling an aerosol made by an e-cigarettes or other vaping device, started at virtually no use in 2011. It encreased to 8, 14, and 16 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in 2015. In 2016 it declined to 6, 11, and 13 percent for the three grades. “Whether adolescent vaping has peaked or only paused is something we will be able to determine in the coming years,” said Richard Miech.


For more information, visit the 2016 MTF press releases on drugs and tobacco.


The above results stem from the nationally representative Monitoring the Future study, now in its 42nd year. About 45,000 students in 380 public and private secondary schools are surveyed annually. The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.