Substance Use

Narrative

Drugs alter brain functioning, and early substance use is especially dangerous, as it increases an individual’s risk for drug abuse and addiction as well as teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, motor vehicle accidents, crime, homicide, and suicide.1, 2 Substance use includes the use of alcohol, as well as the use of illicit drugs including cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, marijuana, and nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs, such as pain relievers and stimulants.

Alcohol continues to be the most commonly used substance among adolescents aged 12–17 years, with 12.9 percent reporting past-month use in 2012 (Figure 1). This reflects a decrease from 17.6 percent in 2002. Alcohol use varied greatly by age, with only 2.2 percent of youth aged 12–13 years reporting past-month use, compared to 11.1 percent of youth aged 14–15 years and 24.8 percent of youth aged 16–17 years. Past-month alcohol use also varied by race and ethnicity, with rates ranging from 4.9 percent among non-Hispanic Asian youth to 14.6 percent of non-Hispanic White youth (figure 1).

past year alcohol use by race

Figure 1 Source

In 2012, 9.5 percent of adolescents reported using illicit drugs in the past month compared to 11.5 percent in 2002. In contrast to alcohol use, illicit drug use among adolescents has not consistently declined over the past decade and has remained between 9 and 10 percent since 2005. The rate of current illicit drug use was greater among older adolescents, ranging from 3.5 percent of those aged 12–13 years to 16.6 percent of those aged 16–17 years (figure 2).

Non-Hispanic Asian youth reported the lowest rates of past month illicit drug use (2.6 percent), while the highest rates were among non-Hispanic youth of multiple races (14.7 percent). Rates of past-month illicit drug use among non-Hispanic White, Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native youth were 9.6, 9.7, 10.2, and 12.1 percent, respectively.

Marijuana is consistently the most commonly used illicit drug among adolescents, with 7.2 percent reporting past-month use in 2012. This was followed by nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics (2.8 percent; Figure 2). There were no differences in past-month alcohol or illicit drug use between male and female adolescents.

past month substance use by drug type and age

Figure 2 Source

Adolescence is an especially critical time for substance use prevention.2 Evidence-based prevention programs that focus on increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors for drug use can significantly reduce substance use among adolescents. Some risk factors include early aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, drug availability, and poverty. Protective factors include self-control, parental monitoring, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and strong neighborhood attachment.3, 4 The Community Preventive Services Task Force also recommends several school and community-based strategies to reduce underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.5, 6

Data Sources

Figure 1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results From the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: detailed tables. NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Accessed February 25, 2014.

Figure 2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results From the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: detailed tables. NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Accessed February 25, 2014.

Endnotes

1 National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Preventing drug abuse: the best strategy. Accessed March 4, 2014.

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020 topics & objectives: substance abuse. Accessed February 28, 2014.

3 National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Preventing drug use among children and adolescents (in brief). Accessed March 4, 2014.

4 National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices . About NREPP. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Accessed February 17, 2015.

5 Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing excessive alcohol consumption. Accessed March 4, 2014.

6 Guide to Community Preventive Services. Motor vehicle-related injury prevention: reducing alcohol-impaired driving. Accessed March 4, 2014.

Data

Statistical Significance Test

Calculate the difference between two estimates:

Calculated Z-Test Result 0.9567433 Not statistically significant

We follow statistical conventions in defining a significant difference by a p-value less than 0.05 where there is a less than 5% probability of observing a difference of that magnitude or greater by chance alone if there were really no difference between estimates. The 95% confidence interval includes a plausible range of values for the observed difference; 95% of random samples would include the true difference with fewer than 5% of random samples failing to capture the true difference.

This website allows comparisons between two estimates using the independent z-test for differences in rates or proportions. This test is appropriate for comparing independent populations across years (e.g., 2011 versus 2012) or subgroups (e.g., Male versus Female) on corresponding measures. To the extent possible, the functionality of this application has limited estimate comparisons based on appropriate use of the independent z-test. However, some tables present subgroup categories within broader categories that will allow comparisons between non-independent populations (e.g., low birth weight and very low birth weight). Users should exercise caution when interpreting these test results, which will frequently overstate statistical significance.

For some tables, the website does not allow for comparisons between two estimates, even though the data represent independent populations. Generally, this is because the standard errors were not publicly available at the time this website was created.

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