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Teen drug use remains at lower level than before the pandemic, U of M survey finds

A hand holding a small glass of liquor, resting on a bent knee.
Photo by Sean Bernstein on Unsplash
Rates of alcohol and other drug use have declined among teens since the pandemic, a University of Michigan survey finds.

Kids these days aren’t using drugs like they used to.

Every year for the past 49 years, researchers have surveyed teens on their use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. And this year, reported drug use remains at a low point not seen for decades.

The drop in drug use coincided with the start of the pandemic. But the lower numbers have held in the years since schools reopened.

“There’s a much broader trend going on here,” says Richard Miech, a professor at the University of Michigan who oversees the Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use. “It’s not just one specific substance that’s been targeted by public health, or for which there’s a media campaign. All of them are going down.”

“It’s not just one specific substance that’s been targeted by public health, or for which there’s a media campaign. All of them are going down.”
Richard Miech, team lead for Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan.

Some categories of drugs - alcohol and cigarettes for example - have been on a decades-long decline that continues. But use of other drugs - such as marijuana and other illicit drugs - has been relatively consistent since about the late 1990s, according to the survey data.

But when the pandemic forced schools nationwide to close, Miech says it broke the trend.

“You know I hate to say it, that I think a big risk factor for drug use is going to school,” he says. “Because that’s where kids are going to have peer pressure to use drugs. That’s where kids are going to interact with older kids that are going to have access to drugs and show them how to use them. And that’s where kids might try to emulate their older friends.”

For 2023, the Monitoring the Future found:

  • 10.9% of eighth graders
  • 19.8% of 10th graders
  • 31.2% of 12th graders 

admitted using some type of illicit drug use in the past year.
Meanwhile, the percentage of teens who say they’ve never used nicotine, alcohol or marijuana rose.

Seventy-percent of eighth graders said they’d never used any of those drugs, while 54.4% of 10th graders and 37.5% of 12th graders said the same, according to the survey.

The U of M survey results for nicotine use were somewhat different from the results seen in the National Youth Tobacco Survey, released last month. In that survey, conducted by the CDC, nicotine use declined among high school students, but rose for middle school students, from 4.5% in 2022 to 6.6% in 2023.

Those numbers were still lower than they were before the pandemic. But the U of M’s Monitoring the Future survey showed no jump in middle school nicotine use from 2022-2023.

The full Monitoring the Future survey report is available here.

Data tables, with previous years’ results are here.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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