Many Youth Discontinue Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs by the Time They Leave High School

"Among 12th graders, the highest noncontinuation rate is observed for inhalants (69%), followed by MDMA (ecstasy, Molly) and crystal methamphetamine (ice) (both at 47%). 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: methamphetamine, heroin, crack, narcotics other than heroin, tranquilizers, amphetamines, steroids, sedatives (barbiturates), cocaine, cocaine other than crack, hallucinogens, and LSD (all between 34% and 44%).

"• The drugs most likely to be continued include cigarettes (only a 24% noncontinuation rate), marijuana (18%), alcohol use to the point of being drunk (21%), any alcohol use (9%), and smokeless tobacco (22%). Note that several psychotherapeutic drugs are among those with the lowest noncontinuation rates. 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 and without a needle is not included due to very low case counts, and PCP is not included because lifetime use is no longer assessed.)

"• Because a relatively high proportion of marijuana users continue to use marijuana at some level over an extended period, it has consistently had one of the lowest noncontinuation rates in the senior year of any of the illicit drugs (18% in 2017).

"• It is noteworthy that, of all the 12th graders who have ever used crack (1.7%), 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 suggested consistently that it is not addictive on the first use, as was often alleged in the past.

"• In contrast to illicit drugs, noncontinuation rates for the two licit drugs are extremely low. Among 12th grade students alcohol has a lifetime prevalence of 62% and an annual prevalence of 56%, yielding a noncontinuation rate 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” who also reported not smoking at all during the past 30 days. Of the 12th graders who said they were ever regular smokers, only 24% have ceased active use.

"• Noncontinuation is defined for smokeless tobacco much the same way as for cigarettes. It also has a relatively low rate of noncontinuation by senior year – only 22% of lifetime regular users did not use in the past 30 days.

"• In addition to providing 12th grade data, Figure 4-3 presents comparable data on noncontinuation rates based on responses of 8th and 10th graders. As mentioned above, the drugs have been left in the same order as the rank-ordered drugs in 12th grade to facilitate comparison across grades

"• The noncontinuation rates for inhalants are very high and rise with grade level (47%, 62%, and 69% in grades 8, 10, and 12)."


Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at