The percentage of adolescents reporting substance use in 2022 remained largely unchanged from 2021, when use declined significantly after the start of the pandemic and related school closures, according to results of the annual Monitoring the Future survey. Use of several substances, however, returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Results show 11% of eighth graders, 21.5% of 10th graders and 32.6% of 12th graders reported any illicit drug use during the past year. Adolescents most commonly reported using alcohol, nicotine vaping and marijuana in the past year, with levels largely holding steady compared to 2021 results.
The survey is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In total, 31,438 students from 308 private and public schools were surveyed last spring.
From 2021 to 2022, nicotine vaping use remained stable for all three grades surveyed, with 12% of eighth graders, 20.5% of 10th graders and 27.3% of 12th graders reporting vaping nicotine within the last year.
In recent years, vaping has become one of the top reported uses among students, with 7% of eighth graders reporting they had vaped nicotine within the past 30 days, compared to 6% who used alcohol and 5% who used marijuana.
Among 10th graders, 14% said they vaped nicotine within the previous 30 days compared to 13.6% for alcohol and 12% for marijuana. Among 12th grade students, nearly 21% reported vaping within the previous 30 days, which was below alcohol use (28%) but similar to marijuana use (20%).
Marijuana use remained stable across the three grade levels surveyed, with 8.3% of eighth graders, 19.5% of 10th graders and 30.7% of 12th graders reporting use. The rate of students who reported vaping marijuana within the past year remained stable with pre-pandemic levels among eighth and 12th graders, while a small increase was noted among 10th graders. That increase, however, was still significantly below pre-pandemic levels, authors said.
The rate of eighth and 10th graders who reported alcohol use within the past year (15.2% and 31.3%, respectively) remained stable when compared to 2021, but the rate for 12th graders (51.9%) returned to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, 47% of 12th graders reported alcohol use, down from 55% in 2020 and 52% in 2019.
“We did see a number of rebounds from last year’s unprecedented number of decreases in drug use, but most of those prevalences remained at or below pre-pandemic levels, even if we did see those significant increase rebounds,” said Marsha Lopez, Ph.D., M.H.S., chief of the Epidemiology Research Branch in the NIDA Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research. “And a lot of questions still remain (about) what the impact of the last couple years are going to be on these students.”
Increases also were seen in past 30-day use of cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin, as well as past 12-month use of prescription opioids among 12th grade students. The reported increases returned to pre-pandemic levels but did not surpass them.
Among the 12th grade students who were surveyed, 47% identified as White, 22% as Hispanic, 11% as African American, 5% as Asian, 1% as American Indian or Alaska Native and 1% as Middle Eastern. Forty-eight percent identified as male, 47% as female, 1% as other and 4% preferred not to answer.
Limitations of the 2022 data include a decreased response rate. The 31,438 respondents represent about 75% of the sample size of a typical year’s data collection.
Administrators also acknowledge the study does not include individuals who drop out of high school before graduation, which represents about 6%-15% of each age cohort nationally, according to U.S. Census statistics.
While authors noted some surprises, they said the long-term effects of the pandemic remain unknown and will be key data points on future surveys.
“We were curious to see whether the significant decreases in substance use we observed last year would continue into the future, and we now see that there may indeed be a longer lasting impact for some substances,” Richard A. Miech, Ph.D., team lead of the Monitoring the Future study at the University of Michigan, said in statement.
“The fact that cannabis use and nicotine vaping did not appear to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 is a fascinating data point. Moving forward, it will be important to continue to monitor these trends to understand the impact on future drug use behavior and outcomes.”