Teen Substance Abuse Drops to a Record Low

by Shawn Yaftali ‘17

Unlike previous generations, the current wave of teenagers are defying the stereotype of young adults abusing dangerous substances. Recently, their use of alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs have fallen to record lows.

These results were compiled by a U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) survey, which studies the trends in illegal and illicit drug use among adolescents in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.

“There are significant decreases in the patterns of drug consumption among teenagers in our country. Quite significant, to the point where we have several drugs at the lowest levels that we’ve ever seen since the inception of the survey,” said NIDA Director, Dr. Nora Volkow.

Among 45,473 students surveyed by NIDA, just over 36 percent had consumed alcohol in the previous year. That’s down by nearly half from a high of 67 percent recorded in 1991. Similarly, in 1991, 63 percent of 12th graders had smoked cigarettes at some point in their lifetimes. As of this year, that number’s fallen to 28 percent, according to NIDA.

While the causes of this overall decline remains unknown, there are a few leading theories. For example, technology’s rapid growth over the past decade has been both a source of knowledge and escape for suburban youth. Previous generations didn’t have the Internet at their fingertips, which led kids who were uneducated on the negative effects of drugs to use said drugs.

“Additionally, increased use of social media could be playing a role in reducing peer pressure to try drugs. A teen socializing remotely can’t physically offer another kid drugs,” said Volkow in an interview with U.S. News.

Secondly, federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have attempted to inform teenagers on the consequences of these substances. Its campaign, “The Real Cost,” focuses on reaching the more than 10 million youth aged 12-17 in the United States alone, who are either open to trying smoking or already experimenting with cigarettes.

“Anti-smoking ads definitely get their point across. Someone either has teeth falling out or depends on a device to breathe. I don’t want the same thing happening to me,” said junior Edwin Guevara.

Furthermore, the survey found that marijuana use has declined among eighth and 10th graders, but stayed the approximately the same for 12th graders. These results come as a surprise for researchers, who initially believed that legalizing the drug would lead to higher usage rates.

“Even if weed was legalized here, nothing is going to change for me. I’m not suddenly going to go out and start smoking just because it’s legal, and I think that’s true for most people,” said senior Ben Schipper.