Teens Drinking Less, but Smoking Marijuana More: From a Press Conference Sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse

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Daily cigarette smoking and binge drinking among American teenagers declined over the past year, but the use of marijuana and the abuse of prescription drugs remain a problem, data from the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey have shown.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) announced the survey findings at the press conference.

The survey found that daily cigarette use, which peaked in the mid- to late 1990s, continued to drop in the past year; 2.4% of 8th graders, 5.5% of 10th graders, and 10.3% of 12th graders reported daily smoking. However, the decline in smoking has slowed in recent years, the researchers said in a press release. "These levels remain too high given the significant morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use," they said.

Alcohol use, particularly binge drinking, declined significantly among all three age groups over the last 5 years, to a 2011 prevalence of 6.4% of 8th graders, 14.7% of 10th graders, and 21.6% of 12th graders. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks in a row in the last 2 weeks.

The use of marijuana among teens climbed in 2011 for the fourth straight year, the survey found. In 2011, 12.5% of 8th graders, 28.8% of 10th graders, and 36.4% of 12th graders reported past-year use of marijuana. These numbers were not significantly different from the 2010 rates.

However, the 5-year trends show increases in daily current, and past-year marijuana use by 10th and 12th graders. The increases might be attributable, in part, to a decline in the perceived risk associated with marijuana use, the researchers suggested. For example, more high school seniors reported marijuana use than smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days (22.6% vs. 18.7%).

In addition, the 2011 survey included first-time data on the use of synthetic marijuana, called K2 or "spice," among high school seniors. About 11.4% of high school seniors reported using spice during the past year.

Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration declared many of the chemicals used in such products as schedule I drugs and deemed them unsafe for at least a year. In addition, at least 18 states have banned synthetic marijuana.

"Next year's results should tell us a lot more about how successful these new control efforts are," Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and lead investigator of the survey. …