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In 2015, nearly one in six twelfth-grade students reported using illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year. This proportion has declined slowly over the last decade. Rates among tenth- and twelfth-grade students are the lowest they have been since at least 1991.

Importance

Illicit drugs other than marijuana include LSD and other hallucinogens; cocaine; heroin and other narcotics; amphetamines, barbiturates, and tranquilizers not taken under a doctor’s orders.

The use of illicit drugs is associated with many other harmful behaviors and can cause both short- and long-term health problems. Students who use illicit drugs are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior,[1] delinquency and crime,[2],[3] and to be at increased risk for depression.[4] Additionally, though attributing causality is complex, students using illicit drugs often have problems in school, including low attendance rates and poor academic performance, and are more likely to drop out or be expelled.[5],[6]

The physical problems associated with illicit drug use are numerous, and vary depending on the type of drug used.

Trends

The use by twelfth-grade students of illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year declined from 34 percent in 1981 to 15 percent in 1992. It then increased during the 1990s, peaking at 22 percent in 2001, before decreasing slowly until 2009, and remaining relatively steady since then. The proportion was 15 percent in 2015. The percentage of tenth-graders using illicit drugs other than marijuana increased during the early 1990s, then held steady between 17 and 18 percent until 2001. Between 2001 and 2015, this proportion decreased from 18 to 11 percent. Among eighth-graders, the share of students using illicit drugs other than marijuana increased in the early 1990s, peaking at 13 percent in 1996, but that rate has slowly but steadily declined since, and was at six percent in 2015. (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

In 2015, eighth-grade females were more likely than males to use illicit drugs in the past year (5 versus 7 percent). Differences at other grade levels were not significant. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin[7]

White students in tenth and twelfth grades are more likely than black students to have used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year, a gap which increases with age. For example, in 2014-2015, approximately 8 percent of black tenth-graders had used illicit drugs within the last year, compared with 11 percent of white tenth-grade students. In twelfth grade, 11 percent of black students used illicit drugs other than marijuana, compared with 16 percent of their white peers. Differences between black and white students in eighth grade were not significant. (Figure 2)

In 2014-2015, Hispanic students at all grade levels were significantly more likely than black students to have used illicit drugs other than marijuana. There were no significant differences between Hispanics and whites in the likelihood of using illicit drugs other than marijuana.

Differences by College Plans

Students who plan to complete college are less likely to have used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year than those who do not plan to complete college. In 2015, six percent of eighth-graders planning to complete four years of college had used illicit drugs in the past year, compared with 11 percent of eighth-graders without such plans. Among tenth-graders, 10 percent of those planning to complete college, compared with 20 percent of those not planning on it, had used illicit drugs. By twelfth grade, 14 percent of those planning to complete college, compared with 18 percent of those not planning on it, had used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Parental Education

Among eighth-graders and tenth-graders, students in 2015 whose parents had less than a high school education were more likely to have used illicit drugs in the past year than their peers whose parents had a high school degree. Tenth graders whose parents graduated college or completed some college were less likely than their peers with less educated parents to have used illicit drugs in the past year. No other differences by parental education were significant in 2015. (Appendix 1)

State and Local Estimates

2015 estimates for use among high school students of individual illicit drugs are available for selected states and metropolitan areas through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

State estimates for use among 12- to 17-year-olds of any illicit drug other than marijuana are available for all 50 states for 2013-2014 from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (table 6).

NOTE: Estimates of drug use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and Youth Risk Behavior Survey, used to generate these state-level estimates, are generally lower than estimates generated by the Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF). The MTF was the source of the national estimates presented in this indicator, and users should not make direct comparisons of estimates made from the two sources. For information on methodological differences in the surveys that may be causing these differences in estimates, see:

Harrison, L.D. (2001). Understanding the differences in youth drug prevalence rates produced by the MTF, NHSDA, and YRBS studies.  Journal of Drug Issues, 31(3), pp. 665-694.

International Estimates

International estimates of lifetime illicit drug use and lifetime use of various illicit drugs are available from the European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) 2015 report.

Prevalence data on illicit drug use across different countries are available through the 2016 UN World Drug Report.

National Goals

Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to reduce the “proportion of adolescents reporting use of alcohol or any illicit drugs during the past 30 days, from 18.4 percent in 2008 to 16.6 percent in 2020.[8]

More information is available here.

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, (2003). Preventing drug abuse among children and adolescents.

SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. Refine by age and outcome categories.

Bandy, T., & Moore, K. A. (2008). What works for preventing and stopping substance use in adolescents: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions [Electronic Version] Washington, DC: Child Trends.

Related Indicators

Definition

For 12th-graders, use of “any illicit drug other than marijuana” includes any use of LSD or other hallucinogens, cocaine, heroin or any use of other narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, or tranquilizers not under a doctor’s orders. For 8th– and 10th-graders, use of “any illicit drug other than marijuana” includes any use of LSD, other hallucinogens, crack or other cocaine, heroin, or any use of amphetamines or tranquilizers not under a doctor’s orders. The use of other narcotics and barbiturates has been excluded, because these younger respondents appear to over-report use (perhaps because they include the use of nonprescription drugs in their answers). [9]

Students who use illicit drugs are defined as those who answered anything other than “none” to the question “On how many occasions (if any) have you used {drug} during the last 12 months?” for any of the drugs mentioned above.

Data Source

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Volume 1: Secondary school students (NIH Publication No. R01 DA 01411).  Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-vol1_2015.pdf . Tables 4-6

Raw Data Source

Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (8th, 10th, and 12th-Grade Surveys), 1976-2015 [Computer files]. Conducted by University of Michigan, Survey Research Center. ICPSR ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [producer and distributor].

ICPSR: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu

Monitoring the Future: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/

Appendix 1 – Percentage of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-Graders who Report They Used Any Illicit Drugs Other than Marijuana1 in the Past Twelve Months, by Grade: Selected Years, 1976-2014

1976 1980 1985 1991 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Eighth Grade 8.4 12.6 10.2 8.1 7.7 7.0 7.4 7.0 7.1 6.4 5.5 5.8 6.4 6.3
Gender
Male 8.0 11.5 9.1 6.6 6.5 5.9 6.0 6.6 6.4 6.1 4.8 4.8 5.3 5.1
Female 8.8 13.5 10.9 9.3 8.7 8.0 8.7 7.3 7.7 6.5 6.0 6.6 7.1 7.4
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 12.6 11.1 8.1 8.1 7.6 7.6 7.5 7.2 6.7 5.6 4.9 5.3 5.7
Black 5.7 3.8 4.2 3.9 3.3 3.4 4.1 4.0 3.8 3.9 4.0 4.6 5.1
Hispanic 15.3 13.9 9.9 9.2 8.6 8.4 8.6 8.7 8.7 8.1 7.4 7.4 7.1
Parental Education3
Less than high school 12.9 18.0 15.8 14.3 12.3 11.9 13.6 12.4 11.5 10.7 8.3 9.3 9.4 9.8
Completed high school 8.5 14.2 12.2 10.3 9.4 8.3 9.7 8.7 8.8 9.1 7.2 6.4 7.6 7
Some college 8.7 14.2 10.6 9.0 8.4 7.8 8.0 7.4 7.3 7.0 6.5 7.1 7.0 6.8
Completed college 7.1 9.7 7.7 5.7 6.0 4.7 5.4 5.4 6.0 4.6 3.5 4.7 4.9 5
Graduate school 7.8 10.1 8.4 5.3 6.2 5.5 5.7 5.1 4.7 4.3 4.4 4.1 5.4 5.1
College Plans
None or under 4 years 16.3 25.3 22.7 18.2 17.7 18.1 20.3 18.2 16.4 17.2 13.0 14.0 14.7 11.0
Complete four years 7.2 10.9 8.7 7.0 6.7 6.0 6.3 6.0 6.3 5.5 4.9 5.2 5.7 5.9
1976 1980 1985 1991 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Tenth Grade 12.2 17.5 16.7 12.9 12.7 13.1 11.3 12.2 12.1 11.2 10.8 10.9 11.2 10.5
Gender
Male 11.2 15.8 16.7 12.0 12.0 12.9 10.9 11.8 12.3 12.2 11.3 12.2 10.4 10.0
Female 13.1 18.9 16.6 13.6 13.1 13.2 11.5 12.3 11.8 10.0 10.4 9.5 11.8 10.7
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 17.7 18.6 14.9 14.4 14.5 13.8 12.9 13.0 12.5 11.5 11.2 11.4 10.9
Black 5.4 4.2 4.8 4.9 4.2 4.1 4.3 5.0 5.5 5.8 6.5 7.2 7.8
Hispanic 16.9 17.8 14.9 13.0 11.8 12.4 13.2 13.5 12.9 12.6 12.4 11.4 11.1
Parental Education3
Less than high school 14.4 20.8 20.4 15.9 16.0 15.6 15.2 18.3 15.8 13.3 16.8 14.5 14.1 15.1
Completed high school 13.7 19.7 19.4 14.4 14.9 15.2 13.2 13.6 14.8 13.1 11.7 12.2 12.4 12.8
Some college 12.1 18.3 17.4 13.7 13.4 14.2 12.7 13.0 12.9 12.0 10.9 12.0 13.2 12.3
Completed college 11.0 15.9 14.5 11.5 10.7 11.6 9.0 9.9 10.2 9.6 9.7 9.1 9.2 8.9
Graduate school 11.6 13.4 14.5 10.8 11.1 9.9 8.6 10.6 9.4 9.2 9.1 9.3 9.0 7.4
College Plans
None or under 4 years 19.6 27.5 27.7 24.0 24.7 25.0 22.9 25.4 24.5 24.1 24.5 19.4 21.9 19.7
Complete four years 10.7 15.7 15.0 11.4 11.1 11.5 9.8 10.7 10.7 9.7 9.4 10.0 10.1 9.5
1976 1980 1985 1991 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Twelfth Grade1 25.4 30.4 27.4 16.2 19.4 20.4 19.7 19.2 18.5 18.3 17.0 17.3 17.6 17.0 17.3 15.9 15.2
Gender
Male 25.7 30.2 27.9 17.0 20.7 21.5 21.4 19.7 20.0 19.9 18.8 19.3 19.1 18.4 18.9 16.9 15.7
Female 24.4 30 26.2 14.8 17.3 18.6 17.5 18.3 16.7 16.2 14.9 15.0 15.5 14.9 15.1 14.2 14.1
Race/Hispanic Origin2
White 30.6 29.6 18.7 20.3 22.7 22.7 22.0 21.6 21.5 20.5 19.9 20.0 19.6 18.7 17.3 16.1
Black 13.8 12 5.7 6.9 6.4 7.1 7.2 7.0 7.0 6.8 8.3 8.7 7.6 9.5 11.7 11.2
Hispanic 24.7 27.2 15.8 17.9 21.2 16.7 17.3 15.8 13.7 13.6 12.8 12.8 13.6 14.7 15.1 14
Parental Education3
Less than high school 23.2 28.2 25.8 17.4 19.4 20.0 14.8 19.7 16.7 16.4 14.7 14.9 16.0 16.5 16.5 14.7 16.5
Completed high school 25.6 30.7 27.4 16.8 19.4 19.9 20.5 19.4 19.7 17.7 17.3 17.7 16.6 18.0 17.4 16.8 14.4
Some college 26.1 30.7 28.9 16.3 19.2 20.5 21.5 20.2 18.4 18.7 17.6 18.4 18.8 17.6 18.2 15.7 15.8
Completed college 27.2 29.9 27.1 14.6 19.4 20.1 19.7 18.6 18.5 18.2 17.8 16.8 16.6 16.8 16.4 15.1 14.7
Graduate school 25.6 30.8 23.8 14.9 18.3 20.3 17.5 18.0 17.4 17.9 15.4 15.7 18.3 15.2 17.7 16.8 16
College Plans
None or under 4 years 28.7 35.5 31.6 20.1 23.9 24.7 25.3 25.4 26.0 25.0 22.1 23.6 25.1 19.4 23.5 19.8 17.7
Complete four years 20.9 25.5 24.1 14.3 17.5 18.5 18.0 17.4 16.7 16.5 15.7 15.7 15.8 16.1 15.6 14.5 14.3
Note: In 2001 the question text was changed on half of the questionnaire forms. “Other psychedelics” was changed to “other hallucinogens”, and shrooms was added to the list of examples. For the tranquilizer list of examples, Miltown was replaced with Xanax. The 2001 data are based on the changed forms only. In 2002 the remaining forms were changed. Beginning in 2002, the data are based on all forms. Because of this, 2002 entry comprises half of the 2001 sample data double-weighted (the half with the new version of the question) and all of the 2002 sample data.
1For 12th graders only: Use of “”any illicit drug other than marijuana”” includes any use of LSD, other hallucinogens, cocaine, or heroin, or any use of other narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, or tranquilizers not under a doctor’s orders. For 8th and 10th graders: Use of “”any illicit drug other than marijuana”” includes any use of LSD, other hallucinogens, crack, other cocaine, or heroin, or any use of amphetamines, barbiturates, or tranquilizers not under a doctor’s orders. The use of other narcotics has been excluded, because these younger respondents appear to over report use (perhaps because they include the use of nonprescription drugs in their answers).
2To derive percentages for each racial/ethnic subgroup, data for the specified year and the previous year have been combined to provide more stable estimates.
3Parental education is calculated by the Institute of Social Research as the average of the mother’s and father’s education.
Source: Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Volume 1: Secondary school students (NIH Publication No. R01 DA 01411). Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Table 4-6.”

Endnotes


[1]Kaiser Family Foundation. (2002). Substance use and risky sexual behavior: Attitudes and practices among adolescents and young adults. Washington, DC: Author.

[2]Wilson, J. J. (2000). Juvenile justice bulletin: Co-occurrence of delinquency and other problem behaviors. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

[3]Windle, M., & Mason, W. A. (2004). General and specific predictors of behavioral and emotional problems among adolescents. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12(1), 49-62.

[4]Halfors, D. D., Waller, M. W., Bauer, D., Ford, C. A., and Halpern, C. T. (2005). Which comes first in adolescence: Sex and drugs or depression? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29(3), 163-170.

[5]McCluskey, C. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., & Rodriguez, M. L. (2002). Early substance use and school achievement: An examination of Latino, white, and African American youth. Journal of Drug Issues, 32(3), 921-943.

[6]National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2001). Malign neglect: Substance abuse and America’s schools. New York, NY: Author.

[7]Hispanics may be of any race. Estimates for blacks and whites do not include Hispanics.

[8]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Healthy People 2020. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/objectiveslist.aspx?topicId=40

[9]Johnson, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. (2011) Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2010: Volume 1: Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research. Table 4-7 footnote a.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2016). Illicit drug use. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=illicit-drug-use

Last updated: November 2016