Teenagers in America are drinking alcohol at record low levels, but instead prefer to smoke more marijuana, according to a recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan for the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
The data shows one in every 15 high school seniors use marijuana on a daily or near daily basis, the highest that rate has been since 1981. Conversely, 40% of that same demographic reported drinking within 30 days of the survey, a significant decline from the 54% in 1991.
These numbers were found after polling 47,000 students in grades 8, 10, and 12. The inclusion of eighth grade students in this survey is worrisome; the average eighth grader is 13 or 14 years-old, just stepping into adolescence. The fact that kids are engaging in drug and alcohol use at such a young age is the most troubling aspect of this report.
The survey’s findings show 12.5% of eighth graders report smoking pot within the past year, which is a small decrease in the amount reported last year. Though the 12.5% is much less than the 36.4% of high school seniors who reported smoking in the past year, that number seems high for such a young demographic. It is a scary statistic.
What the article citing the report does not mention is the rationale behind the terminology used in polling students. It is unclear if past-year marijuana use encapsulates having smoked once, as well as regularly. It does not seem right to include both smoking marijuana once and smoking it regularly under the same category; a one-time experience is not on the same level as monthly or weekly smoking.
The numbers reported for high school seniors’ marijuana use is not very surprising, on the other hand. Alcohol, theoretically, is more difficult to obtain than marijuana is for the average 17- or 18-year-old. Rather than having to go to a store and show ID to buy it, you need to only know the right person, and it generally costs less than a handle of vodka.
Accessibility might not be the only reason teenagers are using it more. An overview of the study on the NIDA website lists attitude towards substance abuse under its areas of concern, which gives a possible explanation for the spike: “Among all three grades, recent trends show a decline in the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use.”
That less teenagers view marijuana as a harmful drug doesn’t come as a surprise, either. Thinking back to high school health class, the important information I retained about marijuana was that it is more potent today than it was 30 years ago and it’s known as a gateway drug – that reputation as being less harmful than the other drugs discussed stuck and is the primary thought attached to pot among me and my peers.
It’s a well-known fact that teenagers will experiment with drugs and alcohol, so is this news truly troubling? I say no; to expecting the trend to reverse would be to expect too much.
Photo Credit: Wiros