Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. SD 3.5 Illicit drug use

04/01/1997

Drug use by youth has serious and often long-term individual, social, and economic consequences. Drug use contributes to crime, decreases economic productivity and requires a disproportionate share of health care services for those affected. Use of drugs is a preventable behavior that, when established in youth, can extend into adulthood. The health effects on individuals are striking for those drugs specified in this section.

  • The use of cocaine has been linked with numerous health problems ranging from eating disorders to disability and even death from heart attack and stroke.27
  • Marijuana use holds both health and cognitive risks, particularly for damage to pulmonary functions as a result of chronic use28
  • Hallucinogens can affect brain chemistry and result in problems both in learning new information and retaining knowledge.29
  • Chronic use of some inhalants may result in injury to the liver and kidneys as well as cause neurological damage, although it is not yet determined whether such damage is long-term.30

Marijuana Use.31 From a high of 33.7 percent in 1980, large and steady declines in the percentage of 12th graders reporting marijuana use were evident until 1992. Since 1992, however, marijuana use among 12th grade students has increased from 11.9 percent to 21.9 percent by 1996 (see Figure SD 3.5.A). There have also been increases in marijuana use among 8th and 10th graders in recent years. The rise in marijuana use is also evident among 8th grade students whose use has increased from 3.2 percent in 1991 to 11.3 percent in 1996. Marijuana use by 10th graders rose from 8.7 percent in 1991 to 20.4 percent by 1996.

Marijuana has consistently been used by higher percentages of 10th and 12th graders than any of the other drugs specified here. As of 1994, marijuana use among 8th grade students had surpassed prevalence rates of other drugs shown (see Table SD 3.5.A). This increase in the use of marijuana corresponds with a decline in its perceived harmfulness by students across all grade levels from 1991 to 1996.32

Use of other specified drugs. Increases have also been shown in the use of cocaine and hallucinogens since 1991 across all grade levels. In recent years, cocaine use has been least prevalent in all grade levels, with a high of 2.0 percent of 12th grade students reporting use within a 30-day period in 1996 (see Figure SD 3.5.B). Hallucinogens have low prevalence rates among 8th graders (1.9 percent), although use increases with grade, eventually surpassing the use of inhalants for the upper grade levels. The use of inhalants is highest among 8th grade students and has increased since 1991, with 5.8 percent reporting use in the past 30 days in 1996.

Differences by Age. As seen with cigarette and alcohol use (See Sections SD 3.1 and SD 3.3), use of both marijuana and hallucinogens increases with grade level. This increase is relatively small for hallucinogen use, but is substantial for marijuana use. In 1996, 11.3 percent of 8th grade students reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. Nearly double that percentage of 12th graders (21.9 percent) reported using marijuana within the last 30 days. In contrast, inhalant use is more prevalent in the 8th grade than in either the 10th or 12th grade level. The rate of inhalant use among 8th graders was 5.8 percent compared with 3.3 percent for 10th graders and 2.5 percent for high school seniors in 1996. The prevalence of cocaine use is somewhat lower among 8th graders, but is relatively similar across grade levels, never exceeding 2 percent in 1996.

Differences by Gender. Males are somewhat more likely than female high school students to report using inhalants, hallucinogens, and cocaine. The largest gender difference is seen in marijuana use and is most apparent in the upper grade levels. Among 8th grade students, 9.8 percent of males and 8.2 percent of females reported marijuana use within the preceding 30 days of the survey in 1995. In the 10th grade, males reported marijuana use 4 percentage points higher than that of females. This gender gap increases to 7 percentage points among high school seniors.

Differences by Race. For each category of drug use shown, black students consistently have the lowest rates of use across all grades (see Table SD 3.5.B).
 

Figure SD 3.5.A  
Percentage of 8th, 10th, and 12th Grade Students Who Reported Having Used Marijuana Within the Previous Thirty Days: 1975-1996 

SD3_5A.GIF

Source: Johnston, L.D., OMalley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1995. Rockville, Maryland: National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH Pub. No. 97-4139, 1997. Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. 1996 data from: The Monitoring the Future Study, The University of Michigan. The rise in drug use among American teens continues in 1996. Press release of December 19, 1996.
 
 

Figure SD 3.5.B  
Percentage of High School Seniors Who Reported Having Used Specified Drugs Within the Previous Thirty Days: 1975-1996 

SD3_5B.GIF

Source: Johnston, L.D., OMalley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1995. Rockville, Maryland: National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH Pub. No. 97-4139, 1997. Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. 1996 data from: The Monitoring the Future Study, The University of Michigan. The rise in drug use among American teens continues in 1996. Press release of December 19, 1996.
 
 

Table SD 3.5.A 
Percentage of 8th, 10th, and 12th Grade Students Who Reported Having Used Specified Drugs Within the Previous 30 Days: 1975-1996

                         
     
1975
1980
1985
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Marijuana/Hashish
  8th
 
 
 
 
3.2
3.7
5.1
7.8
9.1
11.3
    Male
 
 
 
 
3.8
3.8
6.1
9.5
9.8
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
2.6
3.5
4.1
6
8.2
 
  10th 
 
 
 
 
8.7
8.1
10.9
15.8
17.2
20.4
    Male 
 
 
 
 
10.1
9
13.1
18.6
19.1
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
7.3
7.1
8.6
12.8
15
 
  12th
27.1
33.7
25.7
14
13.8
11.9
15.5
19
21.2
21.9
    Male
32.3
37.8
28.7
16.1
16.1
13.4
18.2
23
24.6
 
    Female
22.5
29.1
22.4
11.5
11.2
10.2
12.5
15.1
17.2
 
                         
Inhalantsa
  8th
 
 
 
 
4.4
4.7
5.4
5.6
6.1
5.8
    Male
 
 
 
 
4
4.4
4.9
5.4
5.6
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
4.7
4.9
6
5.8
6.6
 
  10th 
 
 
 
 
2.7
2.7
3.3
3.6
3.5
3.3
    Male 
 
 
 
 
2.9
2.9
3.7
3.9
3.8
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
2.6
2.6
2.9
3.3
3.2
 
  12th
 
1.4
2.2
2.7
2.4
2.3
2.5
2.7
3.2
2.5
    Male
 
1.8
2.8
3.5
3.3
3
3.2
3.6
3.9
 
    Female
 
1
1.7
2
1.6
1.6
1.7
1.9
2.5
 
                         
Hallucinogensb
  8th
 
 
 
 
0.8
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.7
1.9
    Male
 
 
 
 
0.9
1.1
1.3
1.5
1.8
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
0.7
1
1.1
1
1.5
 
  10th 
 
 
 
 
1.6
1.8
1.9
2.4
3.3
2.8
    Male 
 
 
 
 
1.8
2.1
2.5
3
3.9
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
1.4
1.4
1.3
1.7
2.7
 
  12th
4.7
3.7
2.5
2.2
2.2
2.1
2.7
3.1
4.4
3.5
    Male
6
4.8
3.4
3.2
3.1
2.9
3.6
4.3
5.8
 
    Female
3.6
2.5
1.4
1
1.1
1.4
1.7
1.7
2.7
 
                         
Cocaine
  8th
 
 
 
 
0.5
0.7
0.7
1
1.2
1.3
    Male
 
 
 
 
0.7
0.6
0.9
1.2
1.1
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
0.4
0.8
0.6
0.9
1.2
 
  10th 
 
 
 
 
0.7
0.7
0.9
1.2
1.7
1.7
    Male 
 
 
 
 
0.7
0.8
1.2
1.4
1.8
 
    Female
 
 
 
 
0.6
0.6
0.5
0.9
1.5
 
  12th
1.9
5.2
6.7
1.9
1.4
1.3
1.3
1.5
1.8
2
    Male
2.5
6
7.7
2.3
1.7
1.5
1.7
1.9
2.2
 
    Female
1.2
4.3
5.6
1.3
0.9
0.9
0.9
1.1
1.3
 
                         
aAll data are unadjusted for underreporting of nitrites.  
bAll data are unadjusted for underreporting of PCP.  

Source: Johnston, L.D., OMalley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., "National Survey Results on Drug Use from The Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1995." Rockville, Maryland: National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH Pub. No. 97-4139, 1997. Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Tables 2-3-12, 3-3-12, 5-3-12, 9-3-12, and 8. 1996 data from: The Monitoring the Future Study, The University of Michigan. "The rise in drug use among American teens continues in 1996." Press release of December 19, 1996.

 
 

Table SD 3.5.B 
Percentage of 8th, 10th, and 12th Grade Students Who Reported Using Specified Drugs Within the Previous Thirty Days:  Variations by Race/Ethnicity, 1992-1993 and 1994-1995

               
   
1992-1993a
1994-1995a
   
 
 
   
8th Grade
10th Grade
12th Grade
8th Grade
10th Grade
12th Grade
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
Marijuana/Hashish
  White
4.1
9.8
14.9
7.8
16.8
20.8
  Black
2.9
4.9
8.1
6.6
13.8
16.8
  Hispanic
8.3
12.4
12.5
12.9
17.7
17.9
               
Inhalants
  White
5.4
3.2
2.6
6.6
3.9
3.3
  Black
2.7
2
1.4
2.5
1.3
1.4
  Hispanic
5.6
3
2.1
6.5
3.4
2.3
               
Hallucinogens
  White
1.1
2.1
2.9
1.6
3.1
4.1
  Black
0.4
0.3
0.5
0.4
0.8
0.7
  Hispanic
1.9
1.8
1.7
1.9
2.7
3.4
               
Cocaine
  White
0.5
0.8
1.2
0.9
1.4
1.6
  Black
0.4
0.2
0.4
0.4
0.6
0.5
  Hispanic
1.8
1.2
2.4
2.5
2.4
2.3
               
Note: aData have been combined for two years to increase subgroup sample sizes, and provide more stable estimates.  

Source: Johnston, L.D., OMalley, P.M., Bachman, J.G. "National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1995." Rockville, Maryland: National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH Pub. No. 97-4139, 1997. Institute for Social Research, the University of Michigan. Table 10.

 

27 Blanken, A.J. 1993. "Measuring Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs Among Adolescents." In Public Health Reports, Journal of the U.S. Public Health Service, Volume 108, Supplement 1, 1993.

28 Blanken, A.J. 1993. "Measuring Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs Among Adolescents." In Public Health Reports, Journal of the U.S. Public Health Service, Volume 108, Supplement 1, 1993.

29 "Measuring the Health Behavior of Adolescents: The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and Recent Reports on High-Risk Adolescents." Public Health Reports. Vol. 108, Supplement 1. Rockville, Maryland: Public Health Service. 1993.

30 Ibid.

31 These percentages likely underestimate the rate of drug use among all youth, because school age youth who are not in school are somewhat more likely to use drugs than those in school. (Based on unpublished prevalence rates of past month marijuana use, past year cocaine use and past year inhalant use among youths ages 12-17 by school status, enrolled or not-enrolled, from the 1994-95 National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse.)

32 The data on perceived harmfulness of specified drugs is not shown here but can also be obtained from The Monitoring the Future Study. The percentage of students who think that smoking marijuana occasionally or regularly is harmful, physically or in other ways, has dropped by at least 13 percentage points from 1991 to 1996 across all grade levels according to The Monitoring the Future Study. In 1996, 25.9 percent of 12th grade students perceived smoking marijuana occasionally to be harmful and 59.9 percent perceived smoking marijuana regularly to be harmful.
 
 

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