Young People and Drugs

Subsection Links:

Related Chapters:

Data Table Links:

The Drug Policy Alliance has a series of resources for educators and parents, including a drug education curriculum and tips for talking to teens about drugs.

Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse has been working since the early 1980s to provide honest, effective drug education for young people.

Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

71. Attitudes of Young People Toward Legalization of Marijuana

"• Table 8-8 lists the proportions of 12th graders in 2018 who favor various legal consequences for marijuana use. The proportion who believe it should be entirely legal was 48%, near the record high set the previous year of 49%. As the percentage favoring legality increased, the percentage believing marijuana use should be a crime decreased and in 2018 was 11%, the lowest level recorded by the survey, having fallen from a peak of 53% in 1990.

"• Asked whether they thought it should be legal to sell marijuana if it were legal to use it, about two in three (66%) said “yes,” very near the historic high of 67% set the previous year. However, about 83% of those answering “yes” (55% of all respondents) would permit sale only to adults. A small minority (11%) favored the sale to anyone, regardless of age, while 19% said that sale should not be legal even if use were made legal, and 15% said they “don’t know.” Thus, while the majority subscribe to the idea of legal sale, if use is allowed, the great majority agree with the notion that sale to underage people should not be legal.

"• Most 12th graders felt that they would be little affected personally by the legalization of either the sale or the use of marijuana. Nearly half (45%) of the respondents said that they would not use the drug even if it were legal to buy and use, while others indicated that they would use it about as often as they do now (16%) or less often (1%). Only 9% said they would use it more often than they do at present, while 16% thought they would try it. Another 13% said they did not know how their behavior would be affected if marijuana were legalized. Still, this amounts to 25% of all 12th graders, or about one in four, who thought that they would try marijuana, or that their use would increase, if marijuana were legalized.

"• A study of the effects of decriminalization by several states during the late 1970s, based on MTF data, found no evidence of any impact on the use of marijuana among young people, nor on attitudes and beliefs concerning its use.18 However, it should be noted that decriminalization falls well short of the full legalization posited in the questions here. Moreover, the situation today is very different from the one in the late 1970s, with more peer disapproval and more rigorous enforcement of drug laws, at least until recently. Some more recent studies suggest that there might be an impact of decriminalization, because “youths living in decriminalized states are significantly more likely to report currently using marijuana.”19 One study using MTF data shows that prevalence of marijuana use among 12th grade Californian students significantly increased in the two years after decriminalization went into effect in 2011, and youth attitudes also became significantly more permissive.20 As more states approve full legalization of recreational use for adults (as has occurred in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Vermont, and Washington, DC), it seems quite possible that attitudes about, and use of, marijuana will change. Declines in perceived risk and disapproval of marijuana would seem the most likely attitudinal changes, and such changes may well lead to increased use among youth."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2019). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2018: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

72. Pain Relief and Non-Prescription Use of Prescription Opioids by US High School Seniors

"The lifetime medical use of prescription opioids was reported by approximately 14.0% of those who did not engage in past-year nonmedical use of prescription opioids, 76.1% of nonmedical users of prescription opioids motivated only by pain relief, 71.4% of those motivated by pain relief and other motives, and 46.7% of those who reported non-pain relief motives only (p < 0.001). Among past-year nonmedical users of prescription opioids, approximately 56.5% of those motivated only by pain relief as compared to 23.1% of those who reported pain relief and other motives, and 14.2% of those who reported only non-pain relief motives had initiated medical use of prescription opioids before nonmedical use of prescription opioids. In contrast, approximately 19.6% of those motivated only by pain relief as compared to 48.3% of those who reported pain relief and other motives, and 32.5% of those who reported only non-pain relief motives initiated nonmedical use of prescription opioids before medical use of prescription opioids."

Sean Esteban McCabe, Phd, et al., "Motives for Nonmedical Use of Prescription Opioids among High School Seniors in the United States: Self-Treatment and Beyond," Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 2009 August; 163(8): 739-744. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2009.120.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu...
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm...

73. Children with Parents in Prison

"Since 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled, up 131%. The number of children with a father in prison has grown by 77%. This finding reflects a faster rate of growth in the number of mothers held in state and federal prisons (up 122%), compared to the number of fathers (up 76%) between 1991 and midyear 2007.
"Of the estimated 74 million children in the U.S. resident population who were under age 18 on July 1, 2007, 2.3% had a parent in prison (table 2). Black children (6.7%) were seven and a half times more likely than white children (0.9%) to have a parent in prison. Hispanic children (2.4%) were more than two and a half times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison."

Glaze, Lauren E., and Maruschak, Laura M., "Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Aug. 2008), NCJ222984, p. 2.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...

74. Estimated Prevalence of and Attitudes Toward Marijuana Use Among Youth in the US in 2015

"Marijuana, the most widely used of the illicit drugs, did not show any significant change in annual prevalence this year in any of the three grades, nor in the three grades combined. After rising for several years, the annual prevalence of marijuana has more or less leveled out since about 2010.
"This year, 12 percent of 8th ­graders, 25 percent of 10th ­graders and 35 percent of 12th ­graders reported using marijuana at least once in the prior 12 months. Of more importance, perhaps, is their daily or near-­daily marijuana use (defined as smoking marijuana on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days). These rates stand at 1.1 percent, 3.0 percent and 6.0 percent in 8th, 10th and 12th grades, respectively.
"In other words, one in every 16 or 17 high school seniors is smoking marijuana daily or near daily. These rates have changed rather little since 2010, but are from three-­to-­six times higher than they were at their low point in 1991.
"'The proportion of our young people smoking marijuana this frequently remains a matter of concern,' Johnston said.[2],[3]
"He notes that the percent of students who see regular marijuana use as carrying a great risk of harm has declined substantially since about 2005, and is still declining. Over the past 10 years, the percent seeing a great risk in regular marijuana use has fallen among 8th ­graders from 74 percent to 58 percent, among 10th ­graders from 66 percent to 43 percent and among 12th­graders from 58 percent to 32 percent."

Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Miech, R.A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 16, 2015). "Use of ecstasy, heroin, synthetic marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes declined among US teens in 2015," University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI, p. 5.
http://www.monitoringthefuture...

75. Trends in Attitudes of US 12th Graders Toward Legalization of Any Illegal Drugs

"• In 2018 for the first time in the history of the survey the majority of 12th grade students did not favor legally prohibiting marijuana use in public places. The proportion of 12th graders who favor legally prohibiting marijuana use in public places decreased by 2 percentage points to 48% in 2018, continuing a long decline since 2008, when 70% favored prohibition. The percentage favoring legal prohibitions against use in private was also at a historic low of 22% in 2018, down from 82% in 1990.

"• The majority of 12th graders agree that people should be prohibited by law from using illicit drugs other than marijuana in public. (The questions specified people age 18 or older; presumably proportions would be even higher for those under 18.) For example, in 2018 the percentages agreeing to prohibition are 60% for amphetamines or sedatives (barbiturates), 65% for LSD, and 75% for heroin. Even use in private is opposed by substantial proportions; for example, 42% believe that use in private of amphetamines or sedatives (barbiturates) should be illegal, while 44% believe the same for LSD, and 66% believe it about heroin use.

"• In 2018, 38% of 12th graders believe that cigarette smoking in “certain specified public places” should be prohibited by law. Were the question more specific as to the types of public places in which smoking might be prohibited (e.g., restaurants or hospitals), quite different results might have emerged.

"• Less than half (42%) of 12th graders in 2018 think that getting drunk in public should be prohibited.

"• For all drugs included in the question, fewer 12th graders believe that use in private settings should be illegal, as compared with use in public settings. This is particularly true for getting drunk in private (which only 20% think should be illegal vs. 42% for getting drunk in public) and for smoking marijuana in private (which only 22% think should be illegal vs. 48% for smoking marijuana in public places)."

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2019). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2018: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at
http://monitoringthefuture.org...
http://monitoringthefuture.org...

76. Effectiveness of Federal Prevention Messages, 1998

"Youths who used illicit drugs in the past year were significantly less likely than youths who had not used drugs to report that they received prevention messages in a special class about alcohol or other drugs at school or as part of another regular class, such as a health class, although these differences were not large. Nearly half of youths who used illicit drugs in the past year reported that they received education or information about alcohol or other drugs as part of a regular class at school, and nearly 30% of youths who used illicit drugs reported being in a special class about alcohol or other drugs at their schools. Youths who were drunk on 51 or more days in the past year did not differ significantly from their counterparts with regard to receipt of alcohol or other drug education as part of a special class.
"In addition, findings from Table 13.8 suggest that youths’ exposure to prevention messages outside school, such as through the media, was fairly widespread but appeared to be unrelated to illicit drug use or being drunk on 51 or more days in the past year. Nearly 80% of youths who used illicit drugs and more than three-fourths of youths who were drunk on 51 or more days in the past year reported being exposed to prevention messages outside school."

Office of Applied Studies, National Institute on Drug Abuse, "National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Main Findings 1998" (Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, US Department of Health and Human Services, March 2000), p. 174.
http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icp...
http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED442033
http://files.eric.ed.gov/fullt...

77. Substance Use and Nonfatal Violent Victimization

"Juveniles using drugs or alcohol committed 1 in 10 of the nonfatal violent victimizations against older teens. This was 2-1/2 times higher than the percentage of victimizations against younger teens perceived to be committed by a juvenile who was using drugs or alcohol.
"Younger teens were more likely than older teens to report that their juvenile offender was not using drugs or alcohol. In about 4 in 10 victimizations against younger and older teens committed by juveniles, the victim could not ascertain whether or not the offender was using drugs or alcohol."

Baum, Katrina, PhD, "Juvenile Victimization and Offending, 1993-2003" (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Aug. 2005), p. 8.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub...

78. Past Year Marijuana Use and Exposure to Prevention Messages, by Race/Ethnicity

"• Exposure to prevention messages in the media was significantly associated with lower odds of past year marijuana use for whites and Hispanics, but not for blacks or youths in the 'other' category.
"• Higher levels of parental communication about substance use were significantly associated with lower odds of past year marijuana use among Hispanic youths, but not among youths of other racial/ethnic groups.
"• Within the school domain, strong sanctions against illegal drug use were significantly associated with lower odds of past year youth marijuana use among whites, Hispanics, and youths in the "other" category, but not for blacks.
"• Exposure to prevention messages in school was associated with lower odds of past year marijuana use for whites and Hispanics, but not for blacks or youths in the 'other' category."

Wright, D., & Pemberton, M. (2004). Risk and Protective Factors for Adolescent Drug Use: Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (DHHS Publication No. SMA 04-3874, Analytic Series A-19). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, p. 6.
https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publ...

79. Characteristics of Cannabis Users, Other Drug Users, and Abstainers

"Zambon et al also found that having a good relationship with a best friend was related to increased use of cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco. Similarly, Hoel et al39 reported that although abstainers are successful in many social arenas, they socialize less frequently with friends than youth who drink, while a Finnish study40 indicated that moderate use of alcohol among adolescents was associated with a positive self-image in social relationships. Another
study,41 performed in New Zealand, also indicated an association between a high level of connectedness to friends and an increased level of smoking and use of cannabis in the previous month.
"In addition, and contrary to previous research,23 our study does not confirm the negative effect of cannabis on academic performance among COG youth. In our case, they are more likely to be high school students and they report similar grades as abstainers, even though they skip class more often."

Suris, J. C.; Akre, Christina; Berchtold, Andre´; Jeannin, Andre´; Michaud, Pierre-Andre´, "Some Go Without a Cigarette: Characteristics of Cannabis Users Who Have Never Smoked Tobacco," Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine (Chicago, IL: American Medical Association, November 2007) Vol. 161, No. 11, p. 1046.
http://archpedi.jamanetwork.co...

80. Cannabis Users Compared With Abstainers

"Interestingly, our results do not confirm our hypothesis of better overall functioning among abstainers. In fact, what our research indicates is that the main difference between COG [cannabis use only group] youth and abstainers [those abstaining from all drugs] is that the former are more socially driven: they are significantly more likely to practice sports, and they have a better relationship with their peers. Moreover, even though they are more likely to skip class, they have the same level of good grades; and although they have a worse relationship with their parents, they are not more likely to be depressed. Nevertheless, our results seem to indicate that, although typical of the adolescence process, having good support from friends together with a less solid relationship with parents is a risk factor for occasional cannabis use."

Suris, J. C.; Akre, Christina; Berchtold, Andre´; Jeannin, Andre´; Michaud, Pierre-Andre´, "Some Go Without a Cigarette: Characteristics of Cannabis Users Who Have Never Smoked Tobacco," Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine (Chicago, IL: American Medical Association, November 2007) Vol. 161, No. 11, p. 1046.
http://archpedi.jamanetwork.co...

Pages