Substance use among teens decreased in 2021, according to data from a new national survey.
The Watch the Future Survey is conducted annually by researchers at the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The survey asks students in grades 8, 10, and 12 to self-report their substance use behaviors over the past 30 days, 12 months, and lifespan. Data was collected from February through June 2021.
2021 data represented the largest year-to-year decrease in adolescent substance use in the 46 years the survey was conducted, said the lead researcher Richard Mitch, Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
“Using marijuana, alcohol, nicotine, vaping — prevalence was about 25 percent lower this year than it was in 2020,” Mitch said.
In 2021, 32 percent of 12th graders, 19 percent of 10th graders, and 10 percent of 8th graders said they had used illegal drugs in the past year. Compared to 2020, this is a decrease of 5 percentage points for 12th graders; 12 percentage points for tenth graders; and 5 percentage points for eighth graders.
Illicit drug use is defined as the use of marijuana, LSD, other hallucinogens, cocaine, or heroin; or any use of narcotics, amphetamines, sedatives, or tranquilizers without a physician’s orders.
Mitch said the pandemic may have been a contributing factor to the dramatic decline.
“If you stick your child home all day and don’t let him go outside, he’ll have a much lower chance of using drugs,” Mitch said.
The survey also shows a decrease in the number of teens reporting drug use for the first time, Mitch said.
“If you look at declines in marijuana use, alcohol use, and vaping, it’s not so much that kids with a history of using these products show a cessation,” he said. “What’s more, many children did not start using any of these medications in the first place.”
NIDA Director, Dr. During the 12-month period between April 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses – 28.5% increase compared to the previous year.
“A lot of people are taking drugs, alcohol is on the rise, and marijuana is on the rise,” Volkow said. “However, teens are showing these declines.”
Volkow said this year’s survey shows how important social interactions are to teen drug use. She said this study could be used to improve implementation of drug prevention measures in the future.
This year, researchers surveyed more than 32,000 students enrolled in 319 schools across the country.
In a typical year, the survey will be conducted at the school. Because of the pandemic, this year’s survey was conducted online – 40 percent took part in the survey at school and 60 percent at home. Students who conducted the survey at home reported lower drug use rates than students who completed the survey at school.
Survey 2020 it was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers collected data from school students before the lockdown took effect. Those surveyed represented about 25 percent of the model year cohort, and the results were weighted to be nationally representative.
Mitch said the researchers wondered if the students who answered the survey from home this year might not have been honest about their substance use — if they didn’t have privacy or were worried about their parents seeing their answers. But in addition to reporting lower rates of drug use, students at home reported higher levels of social distancing, including lower rates of socializing with friends.
“So when you take that into account, it’s a lot of the difference between drug prevalence levels among kids who were at home compared to those who are at school,” Michel said. “…they were home all day. So you would expect them to have lower levels of substance abuse because they weren’t able to see their friends [and] Go to parties.”
Notably, the fall in 2021 in teenage e-cigarette smoking — for both marijuana and tobacco — is “the largest drop in vaping we’ve seen in a year,” Volkow said, after sharp increases between 2017 and 2019, which settled in 2020.
Volkow said she was concerned about the toll from the pandemic on children’s mental health, which could have lasting effects and lead to an increase in drug use in the future.
In 2021, students of all age groups reported moderate increases in negative mental health indicators, including boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
“All of these sensations have been shown to increase the risk of drug use as a way of trying to escape from that state,” Volkow said.
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