Drug prevention officials should be feeling a little more confident lately that their efforts are paying off as, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, cigarette, alcohol and drug use among teens has declined since 2013. However, the use of electronic cigarettes among teens has been increasing, which is still a cause for concern. The survey results reflect a two-decade trend among U.S. teens and measures the drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th and 12th graders.
The good news
According to the 2014 survey that was released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), teen use of cigarettes, alcohol and abuse of prescription pain relievers has declined since 2013. The survey found that the use of narcotics, including all opioid pain relievers, but not including heroin, is down to 6.1 percent among high school seniors compared to the 7.1 percent it was a year ago. Additionally, use of Vicodin within the past year for non-medical reasons has dropped to 4.8 percent among high school seniors. The survey also found a decrease in the use of cough-cold medicines over the past year among eighth graders going from the 3.8 percent that it was five years ago down to two percent.
Furthermore, past year use of prescription drug use is down to 6.4 percent, past year use of methamphetamine is down to one percent and the past year use of cocaine is down to 2.6 percent among high school seniors.
Declines have also been prevalent in the use of cigarettes, Ecstasy and alcohol. Daily cigarette use dropped to 1.4 percent among eighth graders, 3.2 percent among 10th graders and 6.7 percent among 12th graders. Ecstasy use is down to 5.3 percent in eighth graders and 2.3 percent in 10th graders. Lastly, alcohol use is down to 9 percent among eighth graders, 23.5 percent among 10th graders and 37.4 percent among 12th graders, a good decline from the previous year’s 10.2 percent, 25.7 percent and 39.2 percent, respectively.
On the other hand, marijuana use rates remained steady, which could be a result of teens’ attitudes towards marijuana habits. Many do not feel occasional marijuana use is harmful, which may be why marijuana use rates have stayed at 6.5 percent among eighth graders, 16.6 percent among 10th graders and 21.2 percent among 12th graders.
Possible cause for worry
While the decreasing rates in the use of cigarettes, alcohol and prescription pain reliever abuse make for a positive outlook, a rising trend in electric cigarette use is still a cause for concern. Consumption of e-cigarettes among teens doubled between 2011 and 2012 and, according to this survey, is up to 8.7 percent among eighth graders, 16.2 percent among 10th graders and 17.1 percent among 12th graders. This trend is worrisome, as the use of e-cigarettes could act as a setback to the progress made in reducing cigarette use and may run the risk of acting like a gateway drug to using real cigarettes.
Additionally, the side effects of e-cigarettes are still ambiguous. It is known that they do contain nicotine, which causes addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms when the smoker reduces or halts use. Nicotine is also known to affect the brain development in children and teens; while e-cigarettes may be perceived as safer than real cigarettes, they can still cause damage. Electronic cigarettes contain other dangerous chemicals that could contribute to heart and lung problems later on, though the extent of the harm they cause still needs to be researched more to be fully understood.
While the rise of e-cigarette use has given some cause for concern, it does not take away from the fact that the rates of use of other harmful substances among teens are declining. The downward trend indicates that drug prevention methods have been effective and it is now more important than ever that teens, parents, teachers and community leaders put forth the effort to raise awareness of and decrease the usage of e-cigarettes as well.