Monitoring the Future Survey Shows Increasing Teen Drug Use, Changing Attitudes About Drugs
In their latest annual survey of teenagers' drug use and attitudes about drug use, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that use of all illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes is continuing to rise (Pierre Thomas, "Teens Use More Drugs, Worry Less About Consequences," Washington Post, December 16, 1995, p. 1).
The survey, released on December 15, found that the percent of 8th-graders who had used an illicit drug has nearly doubled between 1991 and 1995, jumping from 11 percent to 21 percent. For 10th-graders, that percent has risen from 20 to 33 percent. The greatest increase was seen in use of marijuana, with one in twenty high school seniors reporting daily use of marijuana in the past year, one in five using marijuana in the last 30 days, and dramatic increases in the percent reporting marijuana use in other grades. The National Household Survey released in September showed a similar rise in marijuana use among the general population.
The survey also found that fewer teenagers thought drugs like crack cocaine, LSD, marijuana, and powder cocaine were harmful. For instance, the percent of high school seniors reporting that there was "great risk" of harm to people who smoke marijuana regularly fell from 79 percent in 1991 to 61 percent in 1995.
The declines in the perception of harmfulness are striking for younger teenagers. 8th-graders reporting "great risk" of harm to people who take crack cocaine occasionally declined from 82 percent in 1991 to 72 percent in 1995. For seniors, the decline was from 77 percent to 73 percent in that time frame. In the response to the perception of harm to people who take powder cocaine occasionally, 8th-graders reporting "great risk" in 1995 was 66 percent, down from 77% in 1991. Seniors showed a smaller decline, from 70 percent to 69 percent between those years.
There were also declines in the perceived risk of daily and binge alcohol consumption (5 or more drinks once or twice each weekend), and smoking more than a pack of cigarettes daily. Less than half of 8th-graders saw great risk in pack-a-day cigarette smoking in 1995. In looking at relative risks it is worth noting that teen perceptions of the risk to people who are "smoking marijuana regularly," "try[ing] crack once or twice," and "tak[ing] cocaine powder occasionally" are still substantially higher than the perceived risk for pack-a-day cigarette smoking or binge drinking on weekends. However, among 8th-graders the perception of "great risk" to people who try cocaine powder "once or twice" (45% in 1995) was lower than both binge drinking (54% in 1995) and pack-a-day smoking (50% in 1995).
This year's survey polled almost 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students. The survey is conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
[For more information about the Monitoring the Future survey and a data packet, contact the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 10A39, Rockville, MD, 20857, 301-443-6245.]