Teen Smoking, Drinking Hits Lowest Level Since 1970s
Among 12th-graders, 63.5 percent reported drinking within the past year, compared with 74.8 percent in 1997, according to the study.
Credit: Katseyephoto | Dreamstime

Cigarette and alcohol use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders is at the lowest point since the 1970s, according to a new survey. However, researchers also found continued high rates of teen use of illegal drugs, such as marijuana, and prescription drugs.

The survey, conducted annually since 1975 by researchers at the University of Michigan, showed that 18.7 percent of 12th-graders reported smoking cigarettes within the past month, compared with a recent peak rate of 36.5 percent in 1997. Among eighth-graders, 6.1 percent reported smoking within the past month, compared with 21 percent in 1996.

"That cigarette use has declined to historically low rates is welcome news, given our concerns that declines may have slowed or stalled in recent years," Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a statement.

The survey results also showed that alcohol is still the drug of choice among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, although its use is declining.

Among 12th-graders, 63.5 percent reported drinking within the past year, compared with 74.8 percent in 1997. Similarly, 26.9 percent of eighth-graders reported they used alcohol within the past year, compared with 46.8 percent in 1994.

Teen use of marijuana, which has shown some increases in recent years, remained steady, according to the survey results. Among 12th-graders, 36.4 percent reported marijuana use in the past year, and 6.6 percent reported daily use, up from 31.5 and 5 percent, respectively, five years ago.

The researchers noted that the upward trend in teens' use of marijuana corresponded to downward trends in their perceptions of the drug's risks.

For example, 22.7 percent of high-school seniors reported that they saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared with 25.9 percent five years ago.

The 2011 survey also included questions regarding synthetic marijuana, known as "K2" or "spice," with 11.4 percent of 12th-graders reporting use in the past year.

The researchers noted that nonmedical use of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) medicines Adderall and Ritalin remained about the same as last year among 12th-graders, at 6.5 and 2.6 percent, respectively. Abuse of the painkiller Vicodin was reported by 8.1 percent of 12th graders — similar to the 2010 results.

However, there was a significant decline in the abuse of over-the-counter cough medicine among eighth-graders, down to 2.7 percent from 4.2 percent in 2006, when the survey began including questions about it. Cough medicine abuse also declined among 12th-graders, down to 5.3 percent from 6.9 percent five years ago.

The survey was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Pass it on: Cigarette and alcohol use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders is at a historic low, but there are continued high rates of teens using other tobacco products, as well as illegal drugs such as marijuana and prescription drugs.

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