Drug use drops for teenagers but remains higher for adults

An annual federal report on drug, alcohol and tobacco use also found that 71.5 million Americans were current users of a tobacco product.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Sept. 25, 2006

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To paraphrase the rock band The Who, the kids appear to be all right. Or at least doing better. But what about the grown-ups?

A large national survey shows that while illicit drug use has dropped among 12- to 17-year-olds, it has increased among baby boomers and is still high among young adults.

The results of the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest a change for the better among young people but a resistance to change in those old enough to be their parents and even grandparents.

Illicit drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds dropped from 11.6% in 2002 to 9.9% last year. That means that 367,000 fewer young people reported using any illegal drug in the month before they were queried.

The news was welcomed by White House and federal agency officials who released the report on Sept. 7 while also launching National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month to promote drug treatment.

"Teens ages 12 to 17 are signaling a positive change in behavior," said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Kids in this country are making better choices. I'm proud of them," agreed Assistant Surgeon General Eric B. Broderick, DDS, MPH, who is also acting deputy administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the agency that administers the survey.

"We first saw this shift toward healthier decisions when rates of tobacco use among young people began to go down," Dr. Broderick said. "Now we see a sustained drop in rates of drug use. We will see if the decline in drinking among 12- to 17-year-olds becomes a continued pattern as well."

The increasing use of illegal drugs by the elders of these young people could signal a holdover of abuse patterns established in younger days, Walters said. Among adults ages 50 to 59, the rate of illegal drug use increased from 2.7% to 4.4% between 2002 and 2005, the surveyors found. Marijuana was the drug most often chosen by this population.

Young adults ages 18 to 25 offered a mixed picture. While there were no significant changes between 2002 and 2005 in illicit drug use in the month before the survey, cocaine use jumped from 2.0% in 2002 to 2.6% in 2005.

Prescriptions for trouble

This group also registered an increased use of prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons, according to the report, from 5.4% in 2002 to 6.3% in 2005. The growth was largely due to the use of narcotic pain relievers.

But the use of prescription drugs among teens ages 12 to 17 dropped from 4.0% in 2002 to 3.3% in 2005. The majority of these abusers of all ages said they obtained the medications from a friend or relative for free.

The news also was mixed on methamphetamine use. From 2002 to 2005, decreases were seen in lifetime use -- meaning use at least once in the person's lifetime -- and past-year use but not in past-month use. And although the number of past-month users had remained steady since 2002, slightly decreasing in 2005 to 512,000, the number of meth addicts who were dependent on or abused some other illicit drug did rise significantly, from 164,000 in 2002 to 257,000 in 2005.

The annual survey, formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, measures the use of alcohol and tobacco as well as illegal drugs among a 67,500-member sample of people ages 12 and older and serves as the government's primary source of information on the use of such substances among the civilian, noninstitutionalized population.

Also according to the report:

  • In 2005, there were an estimated 71.5 million Americans ages 12 and older who currently used a tobacco product. But those numbers are dropping. Between 2002 and 2005, past-month use of a tobacco product declined from 30.4% to 29.4%, and past-month cigarette use decreased from 26% to 24.9%.
  • In 2005, an estimated 22.2 million people were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the previous year based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Of these, 3.3 million were dependent on or abused both alcohol and illicit drugs, 3.6 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol, and 15.4 million were dependent on or abused alcohol but not illicit drugs. The numbers were basically unchanged since 2002.

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Who's using

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that during 2005, an estimated 19.7 million Americans age 12 or older were current drug users. This represents approximately 8.1% of that population. Based on age, here is a breakdown of those using illicit drugs during the previous month:

All 12-17 18-25 26 and older
2002 8.3% 11.6% 20.2% 5.8%
2003 8.2% 11.2% 20.3% 5.6%
2004 7.9% 10.6% 19.4% 5.5%
2005 8.1% 9.9% 20.1% 5.8%

Source: The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, National Institute on Drug Abuse, September

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Seeking treatment

In 2005, 23.2 million people 12 or older needed drug or alcohol treatment. Here is where some of them went for help.

2,102,000 turned to a self-help group
1,546,000 went to outpatient rehabilitation
1,109,000 went to inpatient rehabilitation
1,046,000 went to an outpatient mental health center
773,000 went to a hospital for inpatient care
460,000 went to a private doctor's office
399,000 went to an emergency department
344,000 went to prison or jail

Source: 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, National Institute on Drug Abuse, September

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External links

"2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health," Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (link)

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