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Survey Says It’s Time To Take An Honest Look at Teenage Drug Abuse

Based on input from nearly 45,000 students at public and private schools, the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) shows a downward trend in teen drug use. Compared to previous surveys, the 2015 numbers have decreased for alcohol, prescription opioid pain relievers, cigarettes and synthetic marijuana use.

What remains high (no pun intended) are the rates of marijuana use, accompanied by a sharp decline in the awareness of its harmful effects. What does that mean? Well, more teenagers are smoking pot and fewer of them know they’re doing something that’s dangerous. Kind of scary, when you think about it.

Mixed Survey Results

projectknow-shutter227224552-skateboardingWhile weed is certainly a prime concern, researchers are also worried about underage drinking. While it looks like fewer teenagers are drinking booze, a whopping 40 percent of 12th graders still admit to being drunk over the past year.

Also alarming is the high rate of underage drinking. While the rate appears to be decreasing, nearly 40 percent of 12th graders still report being drunk in the past year.

Current Trends

Let’s take a look at some of the survey highlights, based on substance category.


  • 23.6 percent of high school seniors report using an illicit drug in the past month.
  • The number of teens who perceive marijuana use as risky has decreased by about 5 percent, now down to 31.9 percent.
  • Synthetic marijuana use has dropped 6 percent in the past five years.
  • Heroin use is at an all-time low, at less than 0.6 percent for all grades.
  • 3.6 percent of seniors reported use of Ecstasy, inhalants or LSD. This is down 1.4 percent from the previous year.
  • The non-medical use of Adderall (prescribed for ADHD) is still prevalent, at 7.5 percent of seniors.
  • Since its peak in 2003, use of prescription opioids continues to fall, with only 4.4 percent of seniors currently reporting non-medical use of Vicodin.


  • The past five surveys have continued to see a downward trend in alcohol use among teens.
  • Binge drinking is down about 2 percent since last year, and is currently at about half of what it was in 1998. However, over 17 percent of seniors still report binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row).
  • A concerning number, 37.7 percent of seniors, report being drunk in the past year. The good news is this number is down from 41.4 percent in 2014.
  • About a fifth of seniors see the potential harm in drinking one to two drinks every day, and over half agree that four to five drinks every day is harmful.

A Little History MTF Survey

Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the MTF Survey includes results from eighth, 10th and 12th graders. The survey has been conducted annually for 41 years. Researchers hope to examine drug use through these results and apply the knowledge gained to create effective prevention and intervention programs.


What Can Parents Do?

Based on the MTF Survey, researchers encourage the continued use of evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

Simply put, while the efforts we’re putting forth seem to be making headway, we’re still in a battle to protect our teens from drugs and alcohol. And while prevention and treatment is important, communication with your teenager should be your number one priority. Make sure they know they can talk to you about drugs and alcohol, be willing to answer their questions (no matter how uncomfortable they are for you) and keep up with their activities in and out of the home.


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