Report Shows Decline in Substance Use Among Teens

Teens walking together at schoolTeen use and abuse of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs is declining, according to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey.

Amid a nationwide prescription and illicit opioid epidemic, teen use of opioids has declined. In 2014, drug overdose deaths reached a record high of 47,055. Nearly 29,000 of those deaths were due to opioids.

Promising Teen Drug and Alcohol Use Trends

The survey has monitored attitudes and behaviors among kids in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades since 1975. More than 45,000 students from 372 public and private schools participated in the 2016 survey. Use of illicit and prescription drugs was at its lowest rate since 1991. Highlights of the study include:

  • Five percent of 8th graders, 10% of 10th graders, and 14% of 12th graders reported using an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past 12 months. This marks a decline of about 1% per age group, but a larger decline over time—13%, 18%, and 21% for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders respectively.
  • Marijuana use dropped to 9.4% among 8th graders and slightly declined among 10th graders. Marijuana use prevalence among 12th graders has remained the same (36%) since 2011.
  • Daily or near-daily use of marijuana declined to 0.7% among 8th graders and 2.5% among 10th graders. Among 12th graders, the figure remains the same as in previous years (6%).
  • Prescription narcotic abuse has declined among 12th graders—the only age group for whom the survey gathered statistics. The figure in 2004 reached an all-time high of 9.5%, but today just 4.8% of high school seniors use prescription narcotics.
  • Use of prescription amphetamines declined. Amphetamines are the second-most widely used group of drugs teens abuse. Abuse of these drugs peaked in the late 1990s, with 9%, 12%, and 11% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders abusing amphetamines. In 2016, the respective figures are 3.5%, 6.1%, and 6.7%.
  • Alcohol use is even more prevalent than marijuana use among all age groups, but it is also at an all-time low. Binge drinking has fallen for all age groups since its peak in the late 1990s.

With increasing concerns about illicit and prescription drug use in the U.S., a related study published in JAMA Pediatrics found newborns are increasingly being born with an addiction to opioids. The increase is most pronounced in rural communities, where neonatal abstinence syndrome—problems that can occur as a result of being exposed to opioids in the womb—increased from 12.9% to 21.2% between 2004 and 2013.


  1. Scutti, S. (2016, December 13). Teen drug use is down, survey says. Retrieved from
  2. Teen use of any illicit drug other than marijuana at new low, same true for alcohol [PDF]. (2016, December 13). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
  3. Villapiano, N. L., Winkelman, T. N., Kozhimannil, K. B., Davis, M. M., & Patrick, S. W. (2016). Rural and urban differences in neonatal abstinence syndrome and maternal opioid use, 2004 to 2013. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3750

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  • Theo


    December 29th, 2016 at 3:27 PM

    Well this is certainly good news for a change!

  • Bennett


    December 30th, 2016 at 12:54 PM

    The problem now seems to be with adults who are abusing prescription drugs. These numbers seem to be increasing at an alarming rate and there seems to be very little that can be done about it. I know that there are all sorts of drug abuse programs available but how many addicts really have the money to afford a really good program like that?

  • donn j

    donn j

    December 31st, 2016 at 1:13 PM

    I only wish that my son could have benefited from this decrease in use before it took away his life.

  • Penny


    January 3rd, 2017 at 1:03 PM

    Oh donn j that seems so unfair. Peace be with you and your family

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