Monitoring the Future 2019: Study Shows Shifts in Teen Substance Abuse

The annual Monitoring the Future survey measures teenage drug and alcohol use — as well as teens’ sentiments about those substances — nationwide. The survey is funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and conducted by the University of Michigan. Results from the 2019 survey show that the percentage of teens abusing over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine remains at historic lows at 2.8%, a slight decrease from 2018.

“…This is a very efficient way…to find out what substances kids are using in the United States and how those have changed from year to year.” Dr. Richard Miech, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, from the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

A total of 42,531 students from 396 public and private schools participated in the most recent survey. By grade level, 3.2% of 8th graders, 2.6% of 10th graders and 2.5% of 12th graders reported abusing OTC cough medicine.

Abuse rates decreased year over year by 0.7% and 0.9% respectively for students in the 10th and 12th grade but increased by 0.4% for students in 8th grade. While it’s encouraging that teen OTC cough medicine abuse remains low partially thanks to our collective efforts, it is still important for parents, teachers, and other community members to continue taking action to prevent substance use.

Tracking and understanding these trends is vital to continuing substance abuse prevention, and empowers parents and community leaders to have meaningful and informed conversations with their teens. The 2019 survey also revealed significant reductions in alcohol consumption as well as a steep rise in use of vaping devices and the use of vaping marijuana. Overall, the survey findings indicate that while substance abuse trends have changed over the years, it remains an issue for many American teens.

If you are looking to help prevent and continue to reduce teen OTC cough medicine abuse in your own home and community, start with the following:

  • Learn about the issue and SHARE what you have learned with other parents and community leaders.
  • TALK with your teen about OTC cough medicine abuse. Teens who learn about the risks of drug use from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use than those who don’t.
  • KNOW the warning signs of abuse and take note of any changes in your teen’s behavior.
  • MONITOR your medicine cabinets. Look for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon on the packaging of OTC cough medicines and take stock of these medicines in your home.

Learn more about the 2019 Monitoring the Future results or find previous surveys here. As the 2019 survey shows, there is still a lot of ground to cover when it comes to preventing teen substance abuse. Communicating with teens who are growing up in the digital age may be challenging but it’s important to have honest conversations. This requires staying aware of what is happening not only in your teen’s life but also the overall challenges facing this new generation.

Take Action

Increased awareness can only mean increased prevention. Join us in the fight against teen cough medicine abuse by exploring and sharing our free resources.