Good News and Bad News in the Recent Statistics for Substance AbuseAugust 31st, 2012
Substance abuse has been a problem in the US for many years, and researchers have identified certain patterns that remain true today. Most people first use alcohol during adolescence, when their bodies are still growing and lifelong habits are forming. Those same developmental years are when some people first take illegal drugs as well. So monitoring substance abuse among teens is a fairly good barometer to predict future trends when those teenagers become adults.
President Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs in 1971 had the opposite effect of what he intended—substance abuse was widespread among adolescents during the 1970s, and this rise in substance abuse resulted in large numbers of adults entering rehab in the 1980s and the rise in the US prison population in the last 30 years. Today, almost 1 in 100 American adults are in prison, many of them for drug-related offenses.
In 2010, the US government spent $15 billion on the War on Drugs, bringing the overall total spent since 1971 to more than $1 trillion. But substance abuse and drug use continues to thrive, albeit with some trends going up and others coming down. Nevertheless, in 2011, a UN commission declared that “The War On Drugs Has Failed.”
Substance Abuse for Teenagers Can Predict Adult Substance Abuse
For many years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has been tracking substance abuse in youth. A recent survey commissioned by the NIDA 2012 and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research revealed some good news and some bad news. Overall substance abuse among teens is slightly up, but only because of a rise in marijuana use.
First, the good news. Despite public perception and isolated media reports, many people think today’s teenagers are stoned or drunk. In fact, the opposite is true. Most young people today have never tried illegal drugs. Cigarette and alcohol use among teens is way down when compared to statistics from 20 or 30 years ago.
Also significantly down among teenagers is the use of cocaine, both powdered and crack: Only 2% of 12th graders had tried cocaine and 1% had tried crack. Some might say that is 2% and 1% too many, but again, the number of teenage cocaine users has been steadily going down since 1999. Use of other illicit drugs among teenagers is also going down: adderall (an amphetamine prescribed to treat ADHD), barbiturates, tranquilizers, and codeine (found in cough medicine).
Now, the bad news. Marijuana use is up among adolescents. The survey found that 12.5% of 12th graders had smoked marijuana, about 6% being classified as every day users (20 or more times per month). Although these numbers are a far cry from the 25-to-30% of teenagers who smoked marijuana in the late 1970s, the slight increase in young marijuana users is discouraging and has skewed the overall statistics of substance abuse among teens upward.
Use of synthetic marijuana, only recently made illegal, is up among teenagers: The survey found that 11% of 12th graders had used synthetic marijuana in the last 12 months. This new trend is disturbing, but hopefully the illegal status of synthetic marijuana will make it much harder to obtain and lead to lower numbers of users. The drug was marketed to teens and young adults, which helps explain this rise in usage.
According to the survey, use of drugs such as LSD, ecstasy, heroin, narcotics other than heroin, and methamphetamine have held steady at roughly the same numbers in the last 5 years. Misuse of prescription drugs has also held steady or dropped slightly. In 2011, 22% of 12th graders said they had misused prescription drugs at least once in their lives and 15% in the last year. That number seems high, but in 2007, the number was 22% and 16%, respectively.
We’ve provided here only a brief summary of statistics for substance abuse among teens. For more information, visit the NIDA web site.
Whether you’re an adult, the parent of a teen, or a teen yourself, help for substance abuse is a phone call away. Call us for free information about rehab centers across America. We’ll answer all your questions confidentially and help you begin your journey of recovery.