Adolescent substance abuse is a problem in many parts of the world, particularly so in the United States, where almost 50% of all high school students admit trying at least one illegal drug before graduation day.  The heaviest users are probably not the kids one expects.  White kids from middle-class homes account for much of the drug use among students today.

This, according to the 33rd annual survey of randomly selected children in grades 8, 10, and 12 conducted by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Full details are in the report, ‘Monitoring the Future: National Results on Adolescent Drug Use,’ released today.  For the current report, University of Michigan researchers polled 46,348 students about their own drug habits and their attitudes toward the drugs popular among teens today.

So, what are today’s teenagers doing?  The report reveals the following:

  • Vicodin and Oxycontin use is on the rise.  10% of seniors have used Vicodin and 4.7% used Oxycontin in the previous year.
  • 7 of the top 10 teenage-preferred drugs require prescriptions or they are over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including cough syrup.  15.4% of high school seniors say they used prescription drugs in a non-medical fashion this past year.
  • More than 50% of them got these drugs from friends or family members.
  • 10th graders aren’t using as much marijuana as they did last year, although the decrease is only about 2% since last year’s survey.  Pot smoking among 12th graders has slowed but not measurably.
  • Almost 11% of the 8th graders say they smoked pot this past year, as did 23.9% of 10th graders and 32.4% of 12th graders.
  • This year’s 10th and 12th graders say Ecstasy is less risky than teens in previous surveys, probably a factor in its increased use this year.
  • 10th graders aren’t using as many amphetamines as they have in the past and crystal methamphetamine use dropped among 12th graders, too.
  • Crack cocaine use dropped among seniors, down to 1.6% over last year’s 1.9%.
  • Fewer kids of all ages are smoking cigarettes than at any other time during the 33 years this survey has been conducted.  That still leaves 10% of seniors smoking and more than half of them smoke more than half a pack a day.
  • Alcohol use is dropping, too, albeit slowly.  In 2008, 52.5% say they’ve drank alcohol, compared to 2007’s 56.3%.
  • Nevertheless, 25% of 12th graders had five or more drinks at one time during the two weeks prior to the survey.
  • More than ever, 12th graders say LSD is not harmful.  8th graders feel the same way about inhalants.
  • Heroin use has remained stable throughout the study period.

Substance abuse among 8th graders and high school students began declining in the late 1990s but has stalled in the last couple of years, according to Dr. Wilson M. Compton, the institute’s director for the Division of Epidemiology Services and Prevention Research.  While encouraged by recent declines, Compton expresses concern for the long-term community health risk adolescent drug use poses and the influence teenage drug use plays on future lifestyle choices.