Alcohol, cannabis and nicotine are most commonly used substances by U.S. teens: Study

Jun 13, 2024

Annual Monitoring the Future survey data released by the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) have demonstrated that Illicit drug use among American teens has been maintained at pre-pandemic levels reached in 2021. Moreover, the survey has also demonstrated significant increases in the percentages of 10th- and 12th-graders who have never used alcohol, cannabis, or nicotine, to approximately 54% and 38%, respectively.

In addition, the survey showed that alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine consumption through vaping have remained the most commonly used substances among teens in 2023; however, their levels of use were lower compared to data collected prior to the pandemic.

According to survey results over the previous years, teen substance use for almost all substances significantly decreased between 2020 and 2021, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing. In 2022, reported substance use among teens remained at these lowered levels, and the latest survey data shows that this trend has been maintained in 2023.

The results of the study showed that 29% of 12th-graders, 18% of 10th-graders, and 8% of 8th-graders had used cannabis sometime over the past 12 months in 2023, at rates that have remained fairly consistent since 2021. In addition, the number of 12th-graders estimated to have consumed alcohol over the past 12 months decreased from 52% in 2022 to 46% in 2023.

“Research has shown that delaying the start of substance use among young people, even by one year, can decrease substance use for the rest of their lives. We may be seeing this play out in real time,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a press release. “This trend is reassuring. Though, it remains crucial to continue to educate young people about the risks and harms of substance use in an open and honest way, emphasizing that illicit pills and other substances may contain deadly fentanyl.”

Furthermore, the survey results showed that 11% of 12th-grade students across the United States used delta-8, a compound that produces a similar “high” to delta-9-THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis. “This is the first national study to report the extent of delta-8 use among young people, which is important to inform research and policy,” said Dr. Richard Miech, team lead of the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study. “A prevalence of 11% is appreciable and indicates this drug is quickly making inroads among teens.”

The first Monitoring the Future survey was carried out in 1975 and has continued every year since. “For 49 consecutive years, the Monitoring the Future survey has closely monitored shifts in substance use trends among young people, helping to identify and track emerging trends with public health relevance,” added Dr. Miech. “This year’s addition of a measure to assess use of delta-8 is one example of this, and we were surprised to see use levels this high among 12th graders. Moving forward, as policies and access to this drug change, it will be important to continue to monitor use of this drug among teens.”