Reported drug use among adolescents continued to hold below pre-pandemic levels in 2023

Naomi Carr
Morgan Blair
Written by Naomi Carr on 10 January 2024
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 15 January 2024

An annual survey completed in the United States reports a reduction in drug and substance use amongst school students compared to rates recorded prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Figures relating to any drug use, including alcohol, nicotine, and illicit and prescription substances, are all lower than those reported in 2019, with higher numbers of young people choosing to abstain from substances altogether.

Reported drug use among adolescents continued to hold below pre-pandemic levels in 2023

What is the survey?

Monitoring the Future is a project that aims to inform and change public opinions on a range of important topics, including substance use, with a focus on the youth of the United States of America.

The main study completed by the project is an annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, asking about their substance use over the last 30 days, 12 months, and lifetime. The purpose of the study is to monitor and understand trends in substance use among young people to help inform policies and national health goals. 

The study is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The 2023 survey includes results from 22,318 students from 235 schools across the US.

What are the results?

The survey details the percentage of students who have used various substances in the last month, year, or within their lifetimes. This includes alcohol, amphetamines, stimulant and non-stimulant ADHD medications (such as Adderall), cannabis, nicotine, heroin, narcotics, prescription medications, tranquilizers, and nicotine or cannabis vapes.

The results show reduced substance use across all age groups compared to results gathered before the Pandemic. Graphs included with the survey show mostly consistent downward trends in substance use since the early 1990s, with some substances increasing somewhat in 2020, before decreasing again.

The most commonly used substances across the age groups were alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis. 

Notable results include:

Alcohol: Rates of alcohol use have steadily decreased over the last four decades. In 2023, 45.7% of 12th graders, 30.6% of 10th graders, and 15.1% of 8th graders drank alcohol in the previous 12 months. This shows a significant decrease, particularly when compared to 2000, when figures showed 73.2% of 12th graders, 65.3% of 10th graders, and 43.1% of 8th graders had consumed alcohol in the last 12 months.

Cannabis: Cannabis use among all age groups has decreased in recent years, with rates among 12th graders decreasing from 35.7% in 2019 to 29% in 2023; 10th graders from 28.8% in 2019 to 17.8% in 2023; and 8th graders from 11.8% in 2019 to 8.3% in 2023.

Nicotine use (including cigarettes and vaping): Nicotine use has steadily decreased from 2019 to 2023, from 33.6% to 19.5% among 12th graders, from 24% to 12.7% among 10th graders, and 12.3% to 9% among 8th graders (showing a slight increase from 8.7% in 2022).

Any illicit substance aside from cannabis: Illicit substance use (such as cocaine, meth, and hallucinogens) has been steadily decreasing across the age groups. In 2023, 7.4% of 12th graders had used illicit substances in the previous year, down from 11.5% in 2019 and steadily decreasing from 17.8% in 2013. Similarly, in 2023, 5.1% of 10th graders had used illicit substances in the last year, down from 6.5% in 2019 and 11.2% in 2014.

Prescription drugs: The use of prescription drugs among 12th graders has decreased from 16.8% in 2005 and 5% in 2022 to 4.1% in 2023.

Ecstasy: In 2023, rates of ecstasy use were 0.7% or below for all age groups, with figures of 1% or more prior to the Pandemic, including 5% of 12th graders in 2014.

OxyContin: OxyContin is a prescription opioid analgesic (oxycodone) commonly associated with the opioid epidemic and high rates of abuse and overdose. Rates of OxyContin use in 2023 were 0.8% or below for all age groups, with previous highs of 5.5% of 12th graders in 2005, 5.1% of 10th graders in 2009, and 2.6% of 8th graders in 2006.

Any narcotics aside from heroin: Narcotic use among 12th graders has decreased from 9.5% in 2004, 2.7% in 2019, and 1.7% in 2022, to 1% in 2023.

Abstaining: Increasing numbers of students are now abstaining from substances. In 2023 among 12th graders, 62.6% hadn’t used substances in the past month, compared to 53.8% in 2019, and 37.5% had never used substances compared to 29.4% in 2020.

Overdose rates

Despite a clear decrease in substance use among students, overdose rates in 15-19-year-olds have reportedly increased in recent years. Deaths from overdose rose dramatically in 2020 and, although they lowered slightly in the following years, are still higher than ever before.

These statistics, when taken alongside the results of the Monitoring the Future survey, indicate that, while drug use is less common among young people, it is becoming more dangerous. One factor that is likely to influence overdose rates is the production and sale of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, a highly potent and cheap synthetic opioid.

While increasing numbers of young people are choosing not to use substances, those who do are more likely to be exposed to dangerously potent products. This highlights the need for continued and increasing education on the risks of drug use, helping young people to make informed decisions and understand how to manage potential dangers.

Resources:

  1. Regents of the University of Michigan. (2024). About MTF. Monitoring the Future. Retrieved from
  2. National Insitute on Drug Abuse. (2023). Reported Drug Use Among Adolescents Continued to Hold Below Pre-Pandemic Levels in 2023. NIDA. Retrieved from
  3. Monitoring the Future. (2023). Drug Prevalence. Retrieved from
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Unintentional Drug Overdose Death Rates Among US Youth Aged 15-19. NIDA. Retrieved from
  5. Friedman, J., Godvin, M., Shover, C.L., Gone, J.P., Hansen, H., & Schriger, D.L. (2022). Trends in Drug Overdose Deaths Among US Adolescents, January 2010 to June 2021. JAMA, 327(14), 1398–1400. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 15 January 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 08 January 2024 and last checked on 15 January 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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