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Surveys on Youth Drug Use

It's important to keep in mind that not all surveys are designed alike or cover the same ground. Each has its own mission, goals, criteria, scope, and methodology. So while the individual surveys may monitor many of the same behaviors or attitudes, their findings and the weight of their results may be quite different. This variety, in fact, is their strength, for together they provide a wealth of information that substantially improves our understanding of drug use in America.

Listed below are three of the most important and comprehensive national surveys, along with brief descriptions, Web links, and examples of their recent findings.

Monitoring the Future

Web Site:

Monitoring the Future is an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults. The study is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Each year, a total of approximately 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students are surveyed. In addition, annual follow-up questionnaires are mailed to a sample of each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation.

Results of the most recent Monitoring the Future survey indicate that past-30-day (current) marijuana use among 12th graders has declined each year for the past five years, from 22.4 percent in 2001 to 19.8 percent in 2005 (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Past-30-day marijuana use among 12th graders

Bar chart of Figure 1: Past-30-day marijuana use among 12th graders
Source: Monitoring the Future, 2005

National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Web Site:

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) involves interviews with approximately 70,000 randomly selected individuals aged 12 and older. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which funds the NSDUH, is an agency within the U.S. Public Health Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Supervision of the project comes from SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies (OAS).

Data from this year's NSDUH will provide national and state-level estimates of the past-month, past-year, and lifetime use of tobacco products, alcohol, illicit drugs, and non-medical use of prescription drugs. In keeping with past studies, these data will continue to provide the drug prevention, treatment, and research communities with current, relevant information on the status of the nation's drug usage.

The 2005 NSDUH shows that the rate of current (past-30-day) marijuana use among youths age 12 to 17 declined from 7.6 percent in 2004 to 6.8 percent in 2005. The current-use rate for marijuana has declined significantly from 8.2 in 2002.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System

Web Site:

The YRBSS was developed in 1990 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor priority health risk behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States. These behaviors, often established during childhood and early adolescence, include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence

The YRBSS was designed to:

  • Determine the prevalence of health risk behaviors
  • Assess whether health risk behaviors increase, decrease, or stay the same over time
  • Examine the co-occurrence of health risk behaviors
  • Provide comparable national, state, and local data
  • Provide comparable data among subpopulations of youth
  • Monitor progress toward achieving the Healthy People 2010 objectives and other program indicators

The YRBSS includes national, state, and local school-based surveys of representative samples of 9th through 12th grade students. These surveys are conducted every two years, usually during the spring semester. The national survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides data representative of high school students in public and private schools in the United States. The state and local surveys, conducted by departments of health and education, provide data representative of public high school students in each state or local school district.

A comparison of YRBS survey results from 2003 and 2005 (figure 2) shows significant declines in the lifetime use of Ecstasy, methamphetamine, illegal steroids, and heroin among high school students. Figure 3 shows trends in past-30-day (current) marijuana use by high school students. As the chart indicates, current-use rates declined from a peak of 26.7 percent in 1999 to 20.2 percent in 2005.

Figure 2: Lifetime use of various drugs among high school students, 2003 to 2005

Bar chart of Figure 2: Lifetime use of various drugs among high school students, 2003 to 2005
Source: 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), June 2006

Figure 3: Past-30-day marijuana use among high school students, 1999-2005

Bar chart of Figure 3: Past-30-day marijuana use among high school students, 1999-2005
Source: 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)