Teens’ Drug Use Is Lower Than Ever (Mostly)

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Monitoring the Future Teen Drug Use Header
Image by NIDA

UPDATE: The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey shows that teens reported a dramatic increase in using vaping devices, in just a single year. Read more

Teens’ use of most illegal drugs is down—way down—except for marijuana, which is staying about the same. However, teens are vaping more often than before, and their use of inhalants has increased slightly.

Those are some of the findings from the latest Monitoring the Future survey. More than 43,700 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades (from 360 schools across the United States) took the survey in 2017. Here are some of the things we learned from them.

The good news

Overall, teens’ use of illegal drugs (other than marijuana and inhalants) continues to decrease. It’s now the lowest in the history of the survey in all three grades. That’s excellent!


  • Teens are misusing opioid pain medications less than they did 10 years ago.
  • Misuse of all pain medications (including over-the-counter medicines) has also dropped since 2004. For instance, 12th graders’ misuse of pain medications fell by more than half, from nearly 10 percent in 2004 to just over 4 percent.
Infographic: Past-Year Misuse of Prescription/Over-the-Counter vs. Illicit Drugs


Although teens’ binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row sometime in the last two weeks) stayed at a similar level as in 2016, it has declined a lot since it peaked in the late 1990s (for 8th and 12th graders) and in 2000 (for 10th graders).

Infographic: Binge Drinking Rates Steady After Decades of Decline


Teens are using traditional tobacco products less these days. 

  • Hookah use has fallen for the second year in a row: Just over 10 percent of high school seniors reported using hookah in 2017, compared to 13 percent in 2016 and nearly 23 percent in 2014.
  • Cigarettes are being used less often, too. In 1997, nearly 25 percent of 12th graders said they smoked them; in the latest survey, just over 4 percent did.

Areas for concern


Teens in school aren’t smoking traditional cigarettes as much as before, but they’re vaping more often. (The survey asked about “any vaping,” so the answers could mean teens are using e-cigarettes, e-pipes, vape pens, or other electronic vaporizers.) This isn’t good news, because some teens who vape are using nicotine for the first time, and research shows they’re much more likely to smoke regular tobacco cigarettes later.

  • Close to 28 percent of high school seniors reported vaping.
  • When asked what they inhaled the last time they vaped, nearly 52 percent of 12th graders who used a vaping device said it was “just flavoring,” close to 33 percent said “nicotine,” and just over 11 percent said “marijuana” or “hash oil.” We should point out, though, that many teens don’t really know what’s in the device they’re vaping, and labels aren’t always reliable. Even if e-cig liquid only contains flavoring, it can also contain toxic chemicals.
Infographic: Past-Year E-Vaporizer User and What Teens Are Inhaling


Another concern for teens in school is that daily marijuana use has become more popular than daily cigarette smoking.

  • Looking at all three grades, marijuana use is up slightly to nearly 24 percent, compared to almost 23 percent last year.
  • Over the past 10 years, 12th graders’ daily use of marijuana has remained about the same, but their daily use of cigarettes has dropped.
  • Fewer teens in school now disapprove of regular marijuana use: Close to 65 percent of 12th graders disapprove, compared to almost 69 percent in 2016. (Reminder: Recreational use of marijuana is still illegal for teens in all 50 states, and using it can have long-term effects on your brain.)
Infographic: Teens More Likely To Use Marijuana Than Cigarettes
Infographic: Daily Marijuana Use Mostly Steady


  • Use of inhalants among 8th graders is back up to 2015 levels, with nearly 5 percent saying they used inhalants in 2017. This had dropped to under 4 percent in 2016.

So, while more teens than ever are wise to the risks associated with opioids, alcohol, and cigarettes, they’re less aware that vaping, weed, and inhalants are risky, too. Know the facts about all these drugs, so you can make smart choices about your health.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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