Teen Drug Abuse & Delinquency Drop Over the Past Decade

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have analyzed over a decade of data and come to a surprising conclusion. The results of the national survey indicate that teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs; they’re also less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, like fighting or stealing.

National Survey On Drug Use and Health

This annual survey of 12 to 17s from all 50 states is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The data include information from 2003 through 2014, the last year which survey numbers are available for. A total of 210,599 teens were part of the study.

Survey Findings

The number of substance-use disorders among these teens had declined by 49 percent over the 12-year span, along with a simultaneous 34 percent decline in behaviors like fighting, assault, stealing, selling drugs, or carrying a handgun. The drop in substance abuse among teens parallels findings in other recent surveys, but this is the first look at how the drop-off may be linked to other behavioral issues.

Why the Drop in Substance Abuse and Delinquency?

It’s not clear as to what is driving the parallel declines. New policies like higher cigarette taxes and stricter anti-bullying policies have a positive effect, but seeing these trends across multiple behaviors suggests larger environmental factors are at work. These might include lower rates of child abuse and neglect and better mental health care for children.

What About the Opioid Epidemic?

While opioid problems continue to rise among adults, a 50 percent drop in opioid abuse was reported by the teens in the survey. Hopefully, this is a glimpse into a positive future with much lower substance abuse rates.

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