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NIDA Home > Publications > NIDA Notes > Vol. 20, No. 6 > Tearoff

Drug Abuse Continues To Decline Among Adolescents
Vol. 20, No. 6 (July 2006)

Drug abuse among adolescents aged 12 to 17 declined 9 percent between 2002 and 2004, according to a nationwide survey tracking substance abuse trends. Recently released results from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) also found that the rate of substance abuse among all Americans in 2004 was similar to that of 2002 and 2003. Some 19 million Americans, or about 8 percent of the population aged 12 and older, used illicit drugs in the month leading up to the survey.

Nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers was the drug category with the largest number of new users in the 12 months prior to the survey—2.4 million—compared with 2.1 million for marijuana, 1.2 million for nonmedical use of tranquilizers, and 1.0 million for cocaine. Marijuana continued to be the most commonly used illicit drug in 2004, with a rate of 6.1 percent (14.6 million past-month users) for the U.S. population aged 12 and older.

"The study confirms some of the decreases in drug abuse we found in the Monitoring the Future survey, which is good news. It also confirms several problems we identified with prescription drug abuse that make us want to redouble our efforts to deal with this emerging epidemic," says Dr. Wilson Compton of NIDA's Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research. "It is remarkable that there are more new monmedical users of prescription pain medications than new marijuana users," he adds.


Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest overall rates of substance abuse among the age groups surveyed, as well as the highest rates for the abuse of specific substances, including binge and heavy drinking (41 percent and 15 percent, respectively), past-month cigarette smoking (39.5 percent), and nonmedical use of prescription medications. When asked if they had ever used a prescription medication not prescribed for them or just for the experience or feeling it caused, 29 percent of the young adults said yes; 6 percent said they had done so in the past month. Nearly one in four (24 percent) had misused pain medications in 2004, up from 22 percent in 2002.

By contrast, adolescents aged 12 to 17 showed a steady decline in past-month drug use—from 11.6 percent in 2002 to 11.2 percent in 2003 and 10.6 percent in 2004. In this age group, American Indian/Alaska Native youth had the highest rates of abuse, 26 percent, compared with their multiracial (12 percent), White (11 percent), Hispanic (10 percent), African-American (9 percent), and Asian (6 percent) counterparts. The decline was in part due to a substantial drop, from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent, in past-month marijuana abuse by boys in this age group. Adolescents' abuse of methamphetamines, cocaine, and cigarettes also declined.

Young people who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana were much less likely to try the substance than those who believed their parents would only somewhat disapprove or would be indifferent. Among the former, 5 percent reported past-month marijuana abuse, compared with 30 percent of the latter.


Abuse of tobacco products declined in 2004, with the rate of pastmonth cigarette smoking falling from 26.0 percent in 2002 to 24.9 percent. Although NIDA officials are encouraged by the generally positive findings on smoking, one particular statistic has prompted concern: Pregnant young women aged 15 to 17 smoked at a rate similar to or higher than that of nonpregnant women in the same age group. Dr. Compton says NIDA has asked the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the study's sponsor, to work with NIDA to further explore the causes of this troubling statistic.

The findings for other substances were:

  • Alcohol: Half the survey respondents said they had taken a drink within the past month, while 22.8 percent said they had participated in binge drinking (five or more drinks in one sitting at least once in the past month), and 6.9 percent said they had engaged in heavy drinking (five or more drinks in one sitting at least five times in the past month).
  • Hallucinogens: The number of past-year abusers of LSD declined 41 percent between 2002 , with most of the decline occuring and 2004. Past-month abuse of ecstasy dropped 40 percent, with most of the abuse decline ocurring between 2002 and 2003. The rate of past-month abuse for other hallucinogens did not change significantly.
  • Methamphetamine: The 2004 rates for methamphetamine abuse (4.9 percent lifetime, 0.6 percent past-year, 0.2 percent past-month) and cocaine abuse (14.2 percent lifetime, 2.4 percent past-year, and 0.8 percent past-month) were similar to those in 2003 and 2002.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2005. Results from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-28, DHHS Publication No. SMA 05-4062). Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.


Volume 20, Number 6 (July 2006)

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