Monitoring the Future survey of teen substance use
The Monitoring the Future Survey is one of three major surveys that provide information on substance use among youth in the United States. The other two surveys are the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Monitoring the Future is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Monitoring the Future has tracked 12th graders' illicit drug use and attitudes toward drugs since 1975. In 1991, 8th- and 10th-graders were added to the study. The 2007 study surveyed about 50,000 students in 400 schools across the U.S.
Questions in the survey ask about the teen's lifetime use (at least once during life), past year use (at least once in the previous year), past month use (at least once in past month), and daily use of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco. The survey also contains questions about the teen's perception and attitudes toward drug use, such as perception of harm from use, disapproval of others who take drugs, and perceived availability of drugs.
Although there is a broad decline in the use of drugs among teens in recent years, substance abuse still remains a widespread problem for American young people. Today half have tried an illicit drug by the time they finish high school, and nearly a third have tried some illicit drug other than marijuana by the end of 12th grade.
Drinking and illicit drug abuse are leading causes of health and social problems and accidents leading to injury or death among young people. The long-term consequences of smoking and drug and alcohol abuse include long-term health and social problems that begin in the teen years but carry on into adulthood.
This survey reveals general trends in use and attitudes among teens. Some findings from the 2007 survey follow.1
Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco
In 2007, about 8% of 8th-graders, 14% of 10th-graders, and 22% of 12th-graders reported smoking in the last 30 days. Although many adolescents still smoke, the number who do has been decreasing steadily since peak levels in the mid-1990s. (But this important trend is slowing down in the lower grades.) Teen use of smokeless tobacco also continues to decrease, down by about one-half from the peak levels reached in the mid-1990s.
Alcohol use remains widespread among today's teenagers. Nearly 4 out of 5 students (77%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school. Nearly half have done so by 8th grade.
In 2007, about 16% of 8th-graders, 33% of 10th-graders, and 44% of 12th-graders reported that they had drunk alcohol in the past 30 days.
Use of inhalants is decreasing among 8th- and 12th-graders. After a period of several years of decline for all three grade levels, annual reported inhalant use among 10th-graders rose in 2007. It is possible this may indicate a "generational forgetting" about the dangers of this type of drug.
Teen use of illicit drugs depends on several factors, including how widely the effects of the drug's "high" are recognized, how favorable the reports of its supposed benefits are, how risky the use of it is seen to be, how acceptable it is in the peer group, and how accessible it is in the peer group.
Use of illicit drugs has been declining in all three grades since 2001, and current levels of illicit drug use among 12th-graders are well below the highest levels of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite the decline, illicit drug use continues to be prevalent in all three grades.
- Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance. In the last year, 6% of 8th-graders, 14% of 10th-graders, and 19% of 12th-graders reported that they had used it. Marijuana use has been declining since it reached a peak in all three grades in 1996 and 1997. In 2002 and 2007, the number of students who reported using marijuana decreased significantly.
- The use of ecstasy (MDMA) increased steeply between 1998 and 2001 but has begun to drop sharply in all three grades. From its 2001 peak rates, the number of students who reported using ecstasy in the past year declined a total of 40% among 8th-graders, 42% among 10th-graders, and 51% among 12th-graders. In 2007, less than 2% of 8th-graders, 4% of 10th-graders, and 5% of 12th-graders reported that they had used ecstasy in the past year.
- Heroin use had a steep increase in all three grades during the 1990s and, with some fluctuations, has been decreasing since 2001. In 2007, the annual use rate for all three grades was reported at close to 1%.
- In 2007, 2% of 8th-graders, 3% of 10th-graders, and 5% of 12th-graders reported using some form of cocaine in the last year. In the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, cocaine use was at an all-time high with reported annual use at about 12% for 12th-graders. Use declined steadily until the early 1990s when annual use rates were below 4% for all grade levels. Use rose until the late 1990s and has been declining since then.
- Use of LSD has been declining steadily since data collection began. In 2007, LSD use was at about 1% for 8th-graders and about 2% for both 10th- and 12th-graders.
- Use of amphetamines is declining, with annual use rates for all three grades between 4% and 8%.
- Use of methamphetamines has been declining gradually for several years for all three grades. Use rates for all three grades are around 2%.
- Use of hallucinogens other than LSD (such as mushrooms) has declined slightly since 2001 in all three grades, with annual use rates at about 2% for 8th-graders, 4% for 10th-graders, and 5% for 12th-graders.
- Club drugs such as flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and ketamine all have relatively low prevalence-of-use rates among secondary students (with annual rates of less than 1% to 2%) and are holding steady.
- Use of anabolic steroids has fluctuated between 1% and about 2% in all three grade levels over the past several years with much higher rates for boys and different use rates in different grades. Overall rates for boys in all three grades are between about 2% and 3%.
Last Updated: August 27, 2008
Author: Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS & Jeannette Curtis