January 11, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the results of the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey.

Keeping track of our teenagers can feel like a full-time job especially with the rampant use of social media and “hip” trends that seem to emerge out of thin air. Unfortunately, these trends aren’t always risk-free. Substance abuse is still popular among teens and can have severe and lasting health implications.

Luckily, the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) make it a bit easier for us to stay up to date by conducting a yearly national survey of 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. middle and high school students on trends in substance use, known as the Monitoring the Future survey.

In recent years, over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse among 8th, 10th and 12th graders has been on the decline. Last year, cough medicine abuse among these grade levels dropped to 3.2% (as compared to 2013, which saw a decline from 5% to 4%). This year, the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey reported abuse of cough medicine to be 1.6% among 8th graders, 3.3% among 10th graders and 4.6% among 12th graders, meaning that the overall average remains at 3.2%.

Here are additional highlights from the 2015 study:

  • Binge drinking continued to gradually decline in 2015 as it was reported by 5% of 8th graders, 11% of 10th graders and 17% of 12th graders. According to investigator Lloyd Johnston, the steepest decline is among the youngest teens which suggests that “state, community and parental efforts have been successful in reducing underage access to alcohol.”
  • Teen cigarette smoking dropped significantly—from the overall average being 8% in 2014 to 7% in 2015. 
  • Perception of marijuana use as “risky” continued to decline, with 31.9% of high school seniors saying regular use could be harmful, as compared to 36.1% last year.
  • The use of synthetic cannabinoids ("synthetic marijuana") by 12th graders has seen a significant decline from when it was first measured at 11.4% in 2011. The progression is as follows: 11.3% in 2012, 7.8% in 2013, 5.8% in 2014 and 5.2% in 2015. 

While the survey certainly indicates progress, it is critical to note that prevention efforts have made a significant difference in outcomes. Whether you’re a parent, educator, law enforcement official or health services provider, it’s important to continue to spread awareness and communicate with teenagers about the dangers of substance abuse.

You can learn more about the survey’s findings here. Please also feel free to comment below and share how you are contributing to the fight against medicine abuse. We’d love to hear from you!