Many Youth Discontinue Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs When They Grow Up

"• One indication of the proportion of people who try a drug but do not continue to use it can be derived from calculating the percentage of those who ever used a drug (once or more) but did not use it in the 12 months preceding the survey.38 We use the word 'noncontinuation' rather than 'discontinuation' because the latter might imply discontinuing an established pattern of use, whereas our current operational definition includes noncontinuation by experimental users as well as established users. Figure 4-3 provides these noncontinuation rates for most drug classes and all three grades in 2013; drugs are ordered from lowest to highest rates among 12th graders. This figure shows that noncontinuation rates vary widely Among 12th graders, the highest noncontinuation rate is observed for inhalants (64%), followed by heroin without a needle (51%). Many inhalants are used primarily at a younger age, and use is often not continued into 12th grade. The rank ordering for noncontinuation of other drugs is as follows: LSD, ecstasy (MDMA), crystal methamphetamine (ice), cocaine powder, and heroin in general (all between 43–45%); cocaine in general, crack, hallucinogens other than LSD, hallucinogens (adjusted), tranquilizers, and methamphetamine (all between 39% and 42%); and narcotics other than heroin, sedatives (barbiturates), steroids, and amphetamines (all between 29% and 36%).

"• The drugs least likely to have been discontinued include cigarettes (21%), marijuana (20%), being drunk (17%), smokeless tobacco (15%), and alcohol (9%). Note that several psychotherapeutic drugs are among those least likely to have their use discontinued. It is important to recognize, however, that substantial proportions of students who try the various illicit drugs do not continue use, even into later adolescence. (Note: Use of heroin with a needle and PCP are not included due to the very low case counts.)

"• Because a relatively high proportion of marijuana users continue to use marijuana at some level over an extended period (as is documented further in Chapter 10), it has consistently had one of the lowest noncontinuation rates in the senior year of any of the illicit drugs (20% in 2013). It is noteworthy that, of all the 12th graders who have ever used crack (1.8%), only about one third (0.6%) report current use and 0.1% of the total sample report current daily use. While there is no question that crack is highly addictive, evidence from MTF has consistently suggested that it is not addictive on the first use, as was often alleged.

"• In contrast to illicit drugs, noncontinuation rates for the two licit drugs are extremely low. Alcohol, tried by the great majority of 12th graders (68%), is still used in the senior year by nearly all who have ever tried it (62% of all 12th graders), yielding a noncontinuation rate for alcohol of only 9%.

"• Noncontinuation had to be defined differently for cigarettes because respondents are not asked to report on their cigarette use in the past year. The noncontinuation rate is thus defined as the percentage of those who say they ever smoked 'regularly' and who also reported no smoking at all during the past 30 days. Of the 12th graders who said they were ever regular smokers, only 21% have ceased active use."


Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Miech, R. A. (2014). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2013: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, pp. 96-97.