Teen Marijuana Use Up, Drinking Down

The latest nation-wide survey of drinking and drug use among teenagers in the U.S. finds marijuana use at a 30 year high while those drinking alcohol has dropped to a 30 year low.

The survey for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is based on 47,000 students in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades and was conducted by the Surey Research Center of the University of Michigan.

The number of high school seniors who smoke pot on a daily or near daily basis (one of every 15) is the highest in 30 years. Similar increases were found among younger teens as well.

The Monitoring the Future survey also found that teen perceptions of "great risk" in using marijuana continues to drop.

Marijuana can affect concentration, perception and reaction time up to 24 hours after it's smoked according to the federal director of drug policies. That's much longer than alcohol can affect behavior.

But while marijuana might affect behavior much longer than alcohol and be much more dangerous for driving, it is much safer in that people are very rarely arrested for driving while drugged.

A drug counselor and recovering addict, Allison Whitney of Atlanta, says that she got into several crashes as a teenager because of smoking pot while driving. Although she would get pulled over for erratic driving, police would always let her go because she passed breathalyzer tests.1

Ms. Whitney says marijuana is especially attractive to teenagers because it's easier to hide than alcohol, a person can get high faster than they can get intoxicated, and parents don't detect marijuana. In addition, nation-wide research has found it easier for young people to buy marijuana than beer because of increased enforcement of laws against the sale of alcoholic beverages to underage persons.2

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages states to test for drugs after a crash. Currently, very few states ever test for illegal drug use under any circumstances.

It appears that very few illegal drug users are ever apprehended for driving while drugged. It's a virtually ignored problem so it's understandable that teenagers think driving while drugged is safer than driving while drunk.


  • Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 14, 2011). "Marijuana use continues to rise among U.S. teens, while alcohol use hits historic lows." University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved from monitoringthefuture.org.


  • 1. Durbin, Dee-Ann. Government targets teens in effort to reduce drugged driving. Associated Press, December 2, 2004.
  • 2. The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VII: Teens, Parents and Siblings. Conducted by QEV Analytics Interviews for the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (www.casacolumbia.org). For earlier study, see http://csdp.org/ads/children.htm/.

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