Teens are incredibly vulnerable to substance use behaviors that can lead to disorders later in life. In fact, studies indicate that the “majority of adults who meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder started using substances during their teen and young adult years .” As such, adolescent addiction, substance use development, behaviors, and psychology in this population are heavily researched and monitored and have been for some time.
Since 1975, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has conducted the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey to examine drug and alcohol use and related attitudes in adolescents. Despite limitations brought about by the 2019 COVID pandemic, the 2020 MTF survey provided helpful insight into the current progress and concerns related to adolescent addiction, substance use, and abuse.
One of the most telling results from the 2020 MTF survey found that teen use of vaping and nicotine is “leveling off” in comparison to alarming rises seen in past year’s survey results . Vaping behaviors were first asked about in the MTF in the year 2017, where teens were asked about lifetime, past year, and past-month usage of nicotine vaping, marijuana vaping, and solely flavor vaping .
2017 results created a baseline, allowing researchers to then note the marked increase in usage for all three substances in the 2018 results. In fact, the 2018 results created concern at seeing “some of the largest absolute increases MTF has ever tracked for any substance .”
Vaping just for flavor decreased from the 2017 to 2019 surveys. However, vaping of marijuana doubled or tripled . All this to say that there was concern leading up to the 2020 survey that rates would continue to increase at an alarming rate.
While rates are still high, it is promising that they appear to have stabilized as opposed to increasing. Marijuana use also showed similar stability, with little change to usage rates .
Adolescent Addiction Drug Use
The survey found that, in 2020, there was no reduction in the usage of illicit drugs. Even so, there is an emphasis that current levels of illicit drug use among teens “is well below the peak levels recorded by the survey in previous years .”
Salvia is a drug that particularly appears to be “ending in use,” as only 0.8% of those surveyed reported using it . It is important to note that usage of over-the-counter medications to get high such as cough and cold medications, increased in 2020 results .
The recreational use of psychotherapeutic drugs has been a concern for many years, as it “seems likely that young people are less concerned about the dangers of using these prescription drugs outside of medical regimen because they are widely used for legitimate purposes .” The 2020 MTF notes specifically that 12th graders have low levels of perceived risk for sedatives and amphetamines, which illustrates this point .
Even so, there is hope in that usage of these drugs by adolescents has declined per the 2020 MTF survey . 2020 was a strange year to survey, as the COVID-19 pandemic decreased the number of respondents.
Despite this, study conductors report this survey does still remain nationally representative . These main results indicate much progress in the reduction of adolescent addiction and youth substance use as well as point to some areas where preventative measures may be impactful.
 Unknown (2020). High-risk substance use among youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/substance-use/index.htm.
 Volkow, N. (2020). As 2020 closes, many questions remain about youth substance use trends. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/12/2020-closes-many-questions-remain-about-youth-substance-use-trends.
 Johnston, L. D. Et al. (2020). Monitoring the future: overview – key findings on adolescent drug use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2020.pdf.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 8, 2021, on AddictionHope.com
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 8, 2021