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University of Michigan study finds teen drug use dropped significantly in the past year

Michał Parzuchowski / Unsplash

New University of Michigan research shows a historic decline in teen drug use over the past year.

The Monitoring the Future study has been asking teenagers about their use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs since 1975. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.

A research team of professors at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has conducted annual, nationally representative surveys of students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

The latest survey showed drug use dropped to rates not seen since the early 1990s.

According to the survey, the percentage of youth who had ever used any illicit drug other than marijuana decreased by more than 25% in 2021. Specifically, in 12th grade this percentage was 27% smaller in comparison to the previous year; in 10th grade the decline was 31%, and in 8th grade the drop was 30%.

Richard Miech is the study’s principal investigator. He said there’s a possibility that the decline during the pandemic may lead to a long-term decrease in drug use — but it's also possible there will be no lasting effects.

“This is a great natural experiment,” said Miech. “On the one hand, there is the possibility that this very large decline that we saw during the pandemic is going to lead to a life-long reduction in drug use. On the other hand, maybe it’s just a blip.”

Miech said one question the study cannot answer is, why are fewer teenagers using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs?

He said a ready explanation is that teens have been unable to socialize with their friends during the pandemic, and youths are less likely to start using drugs when they're stuck at home with their parents.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.