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Survey hints at what's to come

As we enter the final weeks of the academic year, I thought I would share a bit of research on the high school students who will be matriculating this fall. Consider this grist for your cognitive mill as you ponder next year's programming while relaxing on the warm sands of a California beach.

A new national survey (The Partnership at America and the MetLife Foundation, 2013) of students grades 9-12 was released last week.  It is a longitudinal study of teen alcohol and other drug use.  Its findings jive pretty well with the Monitoring The Future study.

Alcohol remains king
It appears that we are in an upward trend for teen alcohol use.  The downward trend from 2002 to 2007 gave rates moving from 60% to 51% reporting past-year alcohol use; since then there has been an almost annual increase to the 2012 level of 57%.  Teens' perception of parental permissiveness has also gone up: disapproval of drinking was 32% in 2010, 28% in 2012.

Other drugs:
Still leading the pack is marijuana.  Annual marijuana use follows a very similar trajectory as alcohol, with reductions bottoming out in 2007 and then rising. However, marijuana's rise was much more sudden, jumping from 32% in 2008 to 38% in 2009.  It has now stayed at 39% for the past 3 years. Students tend to see marijuana use as normative, with only about a quarter of students reporting that none of their friends use it. Given that California places minimal restrictions on marijuana possession and use- even for those under 18- it is likely that marijuana use will remain stable or increase over time.

The gradual upward trend in prescription drug abuse continued in 2012.  In 2008, 18% of students had used a prescription drug without a prescription; in 2012, 24% had done so.  16% had used a pain medicine, while 13% had used a stimulant.  6% of sampled students reported at least monthly use of a non-prescribed pain medicine.   And in classic teen fashion, when asked why they had used the medicine, a majority (70%) reported that they didn't know why.  

The survey only added Synthetic Marijuana (e.g., Spice and K2) in 2012, so there are no trend data. However, among their list of substances, it comes next (skipping tobacco) behind the prescription medicine group.  12% of the students had tried it at least once.  Ecstasy was at 8% and cocaine at 7%.  

And so this looks like we're getting more of the same next year. Alcohol and prescription drug abuse may be heading up, marijuana remaining at recent highs.   With synthetic marijuana becoming increasingly controlled at both the Federal and State level, it may begin to wane, but it hasn’t yet.


The Partnership at America and the MetLife Foundation. (2013). 2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (p. 24). The Partnership at Retrieved from