Dec. 17, 2002 -- For the first time since it became the party drug of choice at raves a decade ago, researchers now say ecstasy use is finally leveling off among teens. In fact, a major new survey of American youths shows that, overall, fewer teens are using any type of illegal drug, alcohol, or tobacco.
Researchers say the positive trends are especially significant because youths who don't abuse drugs are a lot less likely to become substance abusers as adults.
The annual Monitoring the Future survey released yesterday polled more than 44,000 eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students in more than 400 schools across the U.S. and asked them about their behavior and attitudes about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
The most dramatic declines continue to be among the number of teens who smoke cigarettes. Researchers found the proportion of teens who said they had ever smoked fell by 4%-5% from 2001 to 2002 in each of the grades surveyed -- the biggest decline ever since rates of teen smoking reached its peak in the mid-1990s. In fact, smoking rates among 8th graders have dropped by half, from 21% to 10.7%.
Researchers credit the declines to a rise in the number of young people who perceive smoking as dangerous and an upturn the proportion of teens who disapprove of the habit. The study authors say in increase in perceived risk of smoking found since 2000 corresponds to when the American Legacy Foundation started its "Truth" antismoking campaign targeted at youth.
In addition, the authors say the same type of increase in perceived danger may have prompted a leveling off of ecstasy use among teens.
"We have found increases in perceived risk of using a drug to be an important leading indicator of downturns in its use, and this has now proven to apply to ecstasy, as well," says study author Lloyd D. Johnston, of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, in a news release. The Institute conducted the survey on behalf of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Johnston says this year there was a sharp rise in the number of teens who said using ecstasy was dangerous and use of the illicit drug was down among all three grade levels. For example, the percentage of high school seniors who said they had used ecstasy in the previous year dropped from 9.2% to 7.4% from 2001 to 2002.
Marijuana use among all three grades also declined slightly, but only the drops in 30-day or annual use among 10th graders were considered statistically significant.
Although use of heroin and other narcotics has fallen from peak usage rates in recent years, researchers say use of many of the drugs continues to hold steady among teenagers. Steroid use, primarily anabolic steroid use among boys, also remained steady in 2002.
As indicated by this and other studies, alcohol use among teens continues to decline. The survey found sizable drops in the number of teens who said they have had a drink in the last 30 days or previous years across all grade levels. In fact, the 30-day alcohol use rate fell from its peak in 1996 of 26% to 20% in 2002.
Though many of the declines were already under way, researchers say Sept. 11 may have had a significant impact on the country's youth.
"I think it quite possible that the tragedy of 9/11 had somewhat of a sobering effect on the country's young people," says Johnston.