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Drug trends decline or remain stable among teens, but vigilance still required

North America has the largest illicit drug problem in the world today. In fact, 80 percent of the opium produced worldwide is destined for the United States in the form of opioids. It is therefore not surprising that drug use in teenagers has become an epidemic.

Underage drinking is also a major epidemic in teens. Alcohol kills more adolescents than all other drugs combined, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Alcohol plays a role in the three leading causes of death among 15- to 24-year-olds: accidents, homicides and suicides. Teens who drink are also far more likely to take drugs.

A study of adults with drug or alcohol problems showed that 90 percent started using before the age of 18, and half before 15. This staggering fact may be because the adolescent brain is not fully developed until about age 25 and, therefore, may be more vulnerable to brain changes caused by drugs and alcohol. A single drink or drug can permanently change the developing brain, and cognitive deficits can develop after only one or two years of use. Prevention is crucial to avoiding lifelong adverse consequences.

Unfortunately, prevention does not always work and many teens succumb to the pressure to drink and use drugs. The latest survey by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently released its results regarding teen substance use in the United States.

Monitoring the future

The 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey by the NIDA examined drug use and attitudes in approximately 16,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders from about 133 public and private schools nationwide. Results are analyzed and compared with past data collections dating back to 1975 to determine whether drug use in adolescents is on the rise. Key findings according to the NIDA are summarized below.

Lower rates of use:

  1. Heroin, synthetic cannabinoids, Vicodin, methamphetamine, amphetamines, inhalants, Ecstasy, alcohol and cigarettes
  2. Hallucinogens, Ritalin, OxyContin, bath salts and over-the-counter cough medicines among eighth and 10th graders
  3. Cocaine among eighth and 12th graders
  4. Other narcotics, sedatives and crystal meth in 12th graders

Stable rates of use:

  1. Marijuana

Increased rates of use:

  1. E-cigarettes

Remaining vigilant

While the data from this survey is relatively positive overall, teen substance use remains a public health emergency. The prevalence of past-year alcohol use remains alarmingly high at 58 percent in 12th graders. In addition to this underage drinking epidemic, marijuana use also remains high at 35 percent. Past-year use of illicit drugs was reported by 23.6 percent of 12th graders. Other drugs teens are reportedly misusing include tranquilizers, cough medicine, inhalants and many others.

Drug and alcohol use among our nation’s teens is still rampant and much more needs to be done to eliminate it entirely. Alcohol and drugs are lucrative businesses, and profiteers will not give up without a fight. Remaining vigilant is now more important than ever to prevent any more tragedies.

Monitoring the future really starts with parents and families monitoring their children. Prevention of the first drink or drug is the best way to avoid addiction. Even when government education and prevention programs receive funding, they can never be as effective as responsible parenting and supportive loved ones. Alcohol and drug addiction does not discriminate and occurs in families from all backgrounds. Giving children as much knowledge and preparation as possible provides them with the tools they need to protect themselves.

When prevention fails, prompt intervention and treatment has been shown to help many teens recover and move forward with productive, healthy lives. At the Sovereign Health Group, we strive to help teens and adults struggling with substance use disorders recover and learn to live without the need for harmful, addictive substances. After all, the future depends on them.

About us

The Sovereign Health Group provides multidisciplinary behavioral health services to our individual patients and their families at our nationwide locations. In addition, we offer health care providers continuing education opportunities and other professional resources. Sovereign also supports the community with information and outreach to help those in need. For more information about our programs, events and webinars, please call 24/7 helpline.

Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group staff medical writer

For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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