Prevalence of Drug Use

Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use remains one of our nation’s most pressing health problem according to research done over the past three decades.2 While illicit drug use among teens has remained decreased from a high in 1996, the rate of decline has stalled in 2004 according to the Monitoring the Future Study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.3 This survey, now in its 30th year, has measured drug use, perceived risk of harm from drug use, social disapproval and drug availability. One conclusion drawn is that use of a particular substance declines following an increase in perceived risk of harm from that substance. This supports the efforts of educators, statisticians, and drug-awareness programs.

Age twelve to thirteen has been identified as pivotal for a teen’s exposure to and formation of an attitude toward drugs. Consequently, drug resistance programs are implemented at a younger age and trends are tracked from eighth grade through senior year of high school. The percentage of youth who have tried any illicit drug has been shown to rise from 26.8% to 53.9% over these years and about a quarter of the seniors continue to use some form of illicit substance on a regular basis.

The following substances used by high school seniors are ranked according to prevalence documented by the Monitoring the Future Study:

Percentage of Students
Experimented With
Used Monthly
Used Daily
alcohol 79.7 49.8 3.6
cigarettes 61 29.5 10.3
marijuana 49 22.4 5.8
smokeless tobacco 19.7 7.8 2.8
inhalants 13 1.7  
MDMA 11.7 2.8  
LSD 10.9 2.3  
tranquilizers 9.2 3.0  
cocaine 8.2 2.1  
steroids 3.7 1.3  
crack cocaine 3.7 1.1  
heroin 1.8 0.4  

Three rising concerns in regard to adolescents are methamphetamines, diverted OxyContin®, and the acceleration in MDMA usage.4 Methamphetamine use, of epidemic proportions in the Midwest, is the drug associated with the most serious consequences, namely incidents of violence, criminal charges and deterioration of health.4,5 According to the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study of 2000, the percentage of teens using meth monthly is up to 5% although the perception of risk in using meth has significantly increased.6

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In general, studies have shown that the more harmful teens perceive a drug to be, the more it's use decreases.