Monitoring the Future Survey Showed Drug Abuse Rates Remained Steady Among Young Americans in 2022
While it is true that drug use among young people has receded following an alarming spike during the pandemic (2020), the decline in substance abuse has only served to bring usage rates back to pre-pandemic levels.
Data from the 2022 Monitoring the Future Survey
Every year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funds the Monitoring the Future Survey, a program conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This survey helps behavioral health and addiction experts understand the rate of substance abuse among America’s youth. According to the latest report, teen drug experimentation has declined, but only back to pre-pandemic levels.
According to the findings, illicit drug use is present in 11% of eighth graders, 21.5% of 10th graders, and 32.6% of 12th graders. Given that the findings rely on self-reported data (and given many teens may be leery of admitting to experimenting with drugs), the above figures are likely underestimates.
As for the substances used, most students reported using alcohol, nicotine vaping, and cannabis. As for the breakdown of those substances and their rate of usage among the different age groups surveyed, the survey showed:
- 12% of 8th graders, 20.5% of 10th graders, and 27.3% of 12th graders reported vaping nicotine in the past year.
- 8.3% of 8th graders, 19.5% of 10th graders, and 30.7% of 12th graders reported cannabis use in the past year.
- 6.0% of 8th graders, 15.0% of 10th graders, and 20.6% of 12th graders reported vaping cannabis in the past year.
- Alcohol use remained high among 8th and 10th graders (15.2% and 31.3% reported using it, respectively).
- Among 12th graders in 2022, alcohol use was reported among 51.9% of individuals in this grade, despite all individuals surveyed being under the legal drinking age.
- 4.9% of 8th graders, 5.7% of 10th graders, and 8.0% of 12th graders reported using illicit drugs other than cannabis in the past year.
- Of concern, the use of non-heroin narcotics (like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet) increased among 12th graders, with 1.7% of 12th graders saying they used these drugs at least once within the past year. This is of particular concern because 12th graders experimenting with non-heroin narcotics is often how such individuals are exposed to fentanyl, the leading cause of drug-related deaths among young people.
Perceived Harm of Drugs
The Monitoring the Future Survey does not just determine the rate and prevalence of substance abuse among young people. The survey also asks questions about students’ perception of harm, their disapproval and overall negative attitude toward drugs, and their perceived availability of drugs. Findings in these areas include surveyed perceptions among young people: 22.9% of 8th graders and 52.9% of 12th graders report a great deal of perceived harm in occasionally taking specific prescription medications (such as OxyContin and Vicodin). However, young people in these age groups often still experiment with such drugs because they are pressured into doing so by their peers. Among this cohort, 28.1% of 8th graders and 39.6% of 12th graders say they perceive harm in experimenting with Adderall.
Rates of Drug Use are Low, but Deaths are High
Perhaps the most concerning part of the program, the Monitoring the Future Survey examines the rate of fatal encounters (usually involving overdoses) that young people have with drugs each year. The survey found that, even though drug use rates are relatively low among teens (at least when compared to the adult population) and have remained steady for many years, the rate of drug-related deaths among teens has been rising yearly.
Experts attribute the rise in overdoses to the presence of fentanyl contaminating the supply of counterfeit pills, “pills” which are made to resemble prescription medications like benzodiazepines, ADHD medications, and opioids. Teens are more prone to seeking out pills to experiment with, and when they take counterfeit pills without knowing those drugs are fake and have fentanyl in them, they are far more likely to suffer a fatal overdose.
“It is absolutely crucial to educate young people that pills purchased via social media, given to someone by a friend, or obtained from an unknown source may contain deadly fentanyl.”
Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director, highlighted how the presence of fentanyl in the drug supply is the single greatest risk factor regarding teen drug use. “The proliferation of fentanyl in the drug supply is of enormous concern. Though the data indicate that drug use is not becoming more common among young people than it has been in the past, the tragic increase in overdose deaths among this population suggests that drug use is becoming more dangerous than ever before,” she said. “It is absolutely crucial to educate young people that pills purchased via social media, given to someone by a friend, or obtained from an unknown source may contain deadly fentanyl.” Truly, education is the best tool that parents, teachers, public health professionals, policymakers, and opinion leaders have for protecting young people from the dangers of drug abuse.
Education as a Prevention Tool
For the most part, drug use among young people has receded to pre-pandemic levels following broad public health campaigns and educational efforts by teachers, parents, health policy officials, and family practitioners. This shift back toward pre-pandemic drug use levels suggests that strategic and intentional prevention efforts work to dissuade young people from experimenting with drugs, even in the presence of peer pressure.
According to the data, getting young people educated about the harmful nature of drugs and alcohol is far and away the best method for ensuring they say no to mind-altering substances in the future. Quoting a scientific paper that examined the efficacy of drug education programs, “Recent research indicates that certain drug education programs do stop or delay the onset of drug use under optimum conditions…. Drug education programs must be selected because they have demonstrated the ability to benefit youth drug use and youth drug problems.” This is why parents and educators should make it part of their regular interactions with adolescents and teens to talk to them about the risks of drug use and to show them why they should never experiment with drugs.
- NIDA. “National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2022: Secondary School Students.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022. monitoringthefuture.org
- NIDA. “Most reported substance use among adolescents held steady in 2022.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022. nida.nih.gov
- NIH. “Does drug education work?” National Institutes of Health, 2000. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov