A survey says that American teenagers are on their best behavior in 40 years – they’re drinking and smoking less, and are not doing drugs as often as their predecessors. Even marijuana use has gone down among middle-school children, says the yearly Monitoring the Future survey conducted.
Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, who has been in charge of monitoring the survey since it began in 1975, says,
The question is: Why is all this happening? Even though we have some hypotheses, I don’t know that we necessarily have the right ones.
Johnston and other experts think that the decline in teen smoking may be the primary moving factor behind the decline in everything else. For young adolescents, smoking opens the door to the use of other illegal substances, and by cutting down on smoking, fewer teens are moving on to alcohol and drug abuse, USA Today reports.
In 1991, close to 11% of high school seniors smoked half a pack of cigarettes or more daily. This year, only 1.8% admitted to smoking the same amount, and only 10.5% reported smoking at all in the past month. E-cigarette use also seems to have decreased among high school seniors, from 16% in 2015 to 12% this year.
Alcohol consumption is at its lowest level ever, with 37.3% of high school seniors saying they have been drunk at least once. This is a big drop for 53.2% in 2001.
Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, says, “That is gigantic good fortune, and really I don’t think we as a field or society more generally have spent as much time as we should have celebrating and reflecting on why today’s kids are so great in this regard.”
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, theorizes that social media and video games might play a part in this trend, keeping kids at home and away from peer pressure.
When it comes to marijuana use, the number of high school freshmen who said they had used the drug in the past month fell from 6.5% in 2015 to 5.4% this year. But the statistics did not change among high school seniors, with 22.5% reporting having used the drug in the past month, and 6% saying they use it daily.
Among high school seniors, the use of opioid painkillers has dropped from nearly 10% a decade ago to just 2.9% this year.
Caulkins says, “On the whole, ‘the kids are all right’ over the last couple of decades.”