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Substance abuse researcher on how kids are using drugs and alcohol in 2015

A man smokes a joint during a march calling for the legalization of marijuana.
A man smokes a joint during a march calling for the legalization of marijuana.

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Teens are smoking more pot than cigarettes these days, and drinking and illicit drug use are down as well.

That’s the word from this year’s Monitoring The Future report, an annual look at substance abuse among teens. Cigarette and alcohol use are at their lowest points since the report was first published in 1975 and there’s also been a steady decline in the use of drugs like heroin, MDMA, and methamphetamines.

The one thing that teens are still using? Pot.

Marijuana use remained more or less level compared to last year. The report showed 12 percent of 8th graders, 25 percent of 10th graders, and 35 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana in the last 12 months. It also notes that the number of teens who see carrying marijuana as a big risk has declined dramatically. Ease of access and social perception could be a contributing factor to this.

The study reports a steady increase in peer disapproval of binge drinking since the year 2000 as well as a drop in the number of teens who say it’s easy to get alcohol, which the researchers suggest is an indication that efforts to reduce teen drinking are working.

What do you think is contributing to the decrease in alcohol use and the leveling out of marijuana use? What about other illicit drugs? Are anti-drug and alcohol efforts really working or is it just a matter of what teens can most easily acquire? How are teens’ perceptions of drugs, alcohol, and the risks that come along with them changing? What should we expect to see in years to come?


Lloyd Johnston, distinguished senior research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and principal investigator of the Monitoring The Future study since it began in 1975