In 2021, the percentage of students reporting using any illicit drug (other than marijuana) within … [+] the past year decreased significantly for eighth, 10th, and 12th graders.
Teenagers’ use of illicit drugs showed a record decline in 2021, according to a new survey. The drop in drug use amounts to the largest decrease observed in the past five decades.
The results come from the Monitoring the Future study, an annual survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Conducted every year since 1975, the survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA) part of the National Institutes of Health.
The survey asks students in grades 8, 10, and 12 to self-report their substance use over various time periods, such as the past 30 days, past 12 months, and lifetime. It includes questions about perception of harm, disapproval of use, and perceived availability of drugs.
The survey also questioned students on their mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Consistent with other research, it found that students of all age-groups reported moderate increases in boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness, worry, difficulty sleeping, and other mental health symptoms since the beginning of the pandemic.
This year, the Michigan investigators collected 32,260 surveys from students who were enrolled in 319 public and private schools in the United States. According to a NIDA summary, of this year’s respondents, 51.2% were white, 11.3% African American, 16.7% Hispanic, 5.0% Asian, 0.9% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 13.8% self-identified as multiracial.
The survey was web-based, with 40% of respondents taking it in-person in school, and 60% taking it from home while they underwent virtual schooling during the pandemic.
Among the major results, the survey revealed declines in the use of many different substances, including those most commonly used in adolescence – alcohol, marijuana, and vaped nicotine. Decreases were also found in the use of other illegal substances such as cocaine, hallucinogens, and nonmedical use of amphetamines, tranquilizers, and prescription opioids
“We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period. These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA director in an agency news release.
The trends over time in the prevalence of use for different drugs can be found in these 2021 Monitoring the Future data tables. Here are some highlights as summarized by NIDA:
The percentage of students reporting alcohol use in the past year decreased significantly for 10th and 12th grade students and remained stable for eighth graders.
The percentage of students reporting in 2021 that they smoked or vaped marijuana within the past year decreased significantly for all three cohorts.
Vaping remains the predominant method of nicotine use among young people, but the percentage of students who reported in 2021 that they vaped nicotine within the past year decreased significantly across all three grades.
Any illicit drug, other than marijuana
In 2021, the percentage of students reporting any illicit drug use (other than marijuana) within the past year decreased significantly for eighth, 10th, and 12th graders.
Investigators will now be interested in whether these declines will be maintained or whether drug use rates will rise again in the future. As pandemic-related barriers to drug access gradually fade away, will drug use levels among adolescent resume or will the temporary constraints associated with the pandemic continue to serve as a form of incidental prevention?
“These declines are an unintended consequence of the pandemic,” said Richard Miech, principal investigator of the study and research professor at the Institute for Social Research. “Among the many disruptions adolescents have experienced as a result of the pandemic are disruptions in their ability to get drugs, disruptions in their ability to use drugs outside of parental supervision, and disruptions in peer groups that encourage drug use.”