Not Everybody’s Doing It: Why Teen Drug Use is Declining

If you were to base what you know on popular movies and television shows, it would be easy to think that teen drug use is rampant. It’s become very normalized in the entertainment world, but this doesn’t reflect the cultural change among teens when it comes to illicit substances. In recent years, teenagers have been turning away from drugs in large numbers.

teen drug use declining

Drug Use Declining

Surveys show that younger and older teenagers are both choosing to abstain from drugs and alcohol at higher rates. The Monitoring the Future study looks at the habits of thousands of young people, and their results have shown that except marijuana, drug use is down from recent peaks in young people. Explanations for this trend vary. One explanation is that today’s teens are structuring their leisure time more than they used to. According to, boredom and stress are significant factors in drug abuse and drug relapse. Entertainment technologies and extracurricular activities such as team sports, dance, or martial arts relieve stress and prevent boredom, allowing less time and temptation for drug use. Another theory put forth by TIME is that prescription drugs have essentially replaced illicit drugs as emotional outlet for teens suffering from mental illness.

Less Smoking

Another possible reason teen drug use could be down is that cigarette smoking has also gone down, and these two behaviors tend to be connected. Public awareness about the dangers of smoking cigarettes only tends to go up as the years go by. There are fewer people smoking, and this trend also applies to teenagers. They are likely more aware of the health concerns and have seen more of the public health campaigns that highlight the dangers of cigarette use. Studies show that nicotine leads to other drug use in many people. It primes the brain to be more interested in other drugs and to make them seem more appealing. Because teens are smoking fewer cigarettes, their brains aren’t as primed for other drug use like previous generations might have been. Hopefully, this change will bring about fewer teens going to rehab.

Increase in Marijuana

Another possible reason for the general trend of less teen drug use is the increased availability and normalization of marijuana use. While the Monitoring the Future survey did show a decrease in the use of most drugs, marijuana use was reported at higher rates among older teens. There is a broader social trend of marijuana acceptance, and teens are likely not immune to this. There is also an increased ease of access to the drug, due to its legalization in many states. Teens are likely to choose it over other drugs because they think it is safer and easier to get.

Teen drug use is still a problem, but it is on the decline. Parents can rest easier knowing most young people are choosing to abstain. This is a healthy choice to leads to better futures.

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