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Substance Free Youth
The percentage of twelfth grade students who report being substance free (no cigarettes, no alcohol, and no illicit drugs) in the last 30 days increased from 26 percent in 1976 to a high of 48 percent in 2006. The percentages of eighth and tenth graders abstaining from substances remain at their highest since 1991, at 79 percent and 60 percent, respectively. (See Figure 1)
While programs are often targeted to prevent particular types of substance use (tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs), the ultimate goal of most social policy in this area, and of most parents, is to ensure that teens are substance free. The negative social, academic, and health-related outcomes associated with the use of these substances are well documented,1 and can include increased risky sexual behaviors,2 psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety or antisocial personality disorder,3,4 delinquent behavior, poor academic performance, and health-related issues.5 Use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, sometimes called gateway drugs, may increase the likelihood of other drug use.6 Because teens who are known to use one substance often use other substances as well, prevention programs that target multiple substances may be more successful than those that focus on only one. 7
Between 1976 and 2006, the percentage of twelfth grade students who reported being substance free during the 30 days preceding the survey increased from 26 percent to 48 percent, mostly due to a decrease in alcohol and cigarette use.8 (See Figure 1)
The percentage of eighth grade students who were substance free has increased from 65 percent in 1996 to 79 percent in 2005 and 2006. The percentage of substance free students in the tenth grade has also increased, from 49 percent in 1996 to 60 percent in 2005 and 2006. (See Figure 1)
Differences by Race
In 2006, black students in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades were more likely than their white counterparts to report being substance free, a trend that increases with age. Students in the twelfth grade had the largest race gap, with 64 percent of black students reporting being substance free in the last month compared with 44 percent of white students. (See Table 1, Table 2, and Table 3)Differences by Age
The percentage of students who report being substance free decreases with age, with the largest decrease taking place between the eighth and tenth grades. In 2006, 79 percent of eighth grade students reported being substance free, compared with 60 percent of tenth graders and 48 percent of twelfth grade students. (See Figure 1)
Conversely, the percentage who report using all three substances (illicit drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol) increases with age. In 2006, the percentage of youth in eighth grade who reported using all three substances was 3 percent and among those in grade 12 was 10 percent. (See Figure 2)Differences by College Plans
Students who plan on completing four years of college are much more likely than other students to report being substance free. More than eight out of every ten eighth graders in 2006 who planned on completing college reported being substance free in the past 30 days, compared with only 59 percent of eighth graders without such plans. Similar patterns exist among students in the tenth and twelfth grades, although the difference decreases with age. (See Table 1, Table 2, and Table 3)
Differences by Parents' Educational Attainment
Among eighth and tenth grade students, those whose parents graduated from college are more likely than those whose have only completed high school to report being substance free. (See Figure 3) Differences by parental education are not significant for students in the twelfth grade.
The federal government has set several national goals through its Healthy People 2010 initiative related to adolescents and illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Some of these goals include: decreasing the percentage of high school students smoking one or more cigarettes in the prior month from the 1999 level of 35 percent to 16 percent by 2010; decreasing the "proportion of adolescents reporting use of marijuana in the last 30 days" from 8.3 percent in 1998 (for ages 12-17) to 0.7 percent by 2010; and reducing binge drinking among high school seniors from 32 percent in 1998 to 11 percent in 2010. The initiative also aims to increase the age and proportion of adolescents who remain free from alcohol and marijuana, to increase the percentage of adolescents who remain substance free, and to change adolescents' perceptions of drug, alcohol and tobacco use.
For more information, visit http://www.healthypeople.gov/Document/tableofcontents.htm#under
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1For details, see the "Importance" sections for the cigarette, binge drinking, marijuana and illicit drug use indicators in the Child Trends DataBank at http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/3Smoking.cfm, http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/2BingeDrinking.cfm, http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/46MarijuanaUse.cfm, and http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/indicators/58IllicitDrugUse.cfm
2Surgeon General's Office, Trends in Risk Behavior. Available at
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (1999). The Relationship between Mental Health and Substance Abuse Among Adolescents. Available at
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division of Adolescent and School Health, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Healthy Youth! See website at
Office on National Drug Control Policy, Juveniles and Drugs. Available at
6National Drug Intelligence Center, Illicit Drugs and Youth, April 2002.
7 Epstein, J.A., Botvin, G.J., Griffin, K.W., and Diaz, T. (2000). Role of Ethnicity and Gender in Polydrug Use Among a Longitudinal Sample of Innter-City Adolescents. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education (45), 1-12.
8 Bachman, Jerald G., Lloyd D. Johnston, and Patrick M. O'Malley. (2003). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2003. Volume I: Secondary school students (NIH Publication 04-5507). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Use. Table 2-2. Available online at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/vol1_2003.pdf
Substance users are defined as those who said they had used one of the following substances in the past thirty days: alcohol, cigarettes or illicit drugs. Students reporting the use of only one substance may have answered yes to the illicit drug use question, but may in fact have used multiple types of illicit drugs.
Data for 1976-2006 from original analysis by Child Trends of Monitoring the Future survey data.
Raw Data Source
Bachman, Jerald G., Lloyd D. Johnston, and Patrick M. O'Malley. Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (eighth, tenth, and twelfth-Grade Surveys), 1976-2006 [Computer files]. Conducted by University of Michigan, Survey Research Center. ICPSR ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [producer and distributor].
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