March 06, 2024, Durham, NC – As decades of research has shown, trends in adolescent substance use in the United States are constantly evolving. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently published an updated report on findings from the Monitoring the Future research study to share information about recent trends in adolescent substance use. Monitoring the Future is an ongoing research study aimed at examining the drug use related behaviors, attitudes, and values of American adolescents and adults. Since 1975, approximately 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students are surveyed each year as part of the study. The recent Monitoring the Future report details findings from the 2023 national surveys of students.

The latest report provided important information about the state of substance use in the years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of adolescent substance use saw a significant decrease during the initial spread of the pandemic between 2020 and 2021. Because the factors that contributed to this decline are unclear, researchers have found it difficult to predict if the lowered levels of substance use among American youth will be long lasting. For example, adolescents may have experienced lower amounts of peer pressure to use substances during the onset of the pandemic because of social distancing practices and online instruction. Fewer social interactions with peers who encourage substance use may have caused adolescents to engage in less substance use related behaviors and contributed to the reduced substance use rates in 2021. However, upon returning to in-school instruction in late 2021, youth may or may not have returned to typical socialization with peers who encourage drug use, which has made it difficult for researchers to predict patterns of substance use in the years following the pandemic.

Findings from the 2023 Monitoring the Future surveys were promising and indicated that the lowered levels of substance use remained low after 2021. Participating students were asked to provide feedback on the substance use behaviors they engaged in during the 12 months preceding survey completion. Findings showed that there were no drastic increases or decreases in cannabis use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in 2023 from the initial lowered levels that students reported for the Monitoring the Future study in 2021. In addition, rates of past-year alcohol use among 8th and 12th grade students in 2023 were even lower than those of 8th and 12th grade students in 2021. Notably, the 2023 findings indicate that rates of nicotine vaping have continued to decrease significantly since 2021 in all three grade levels.

For the first time in 2023, Monitoring the Future collected data related to students’ use of Delta-8. Delta-8, short for delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-8-THC, is a psychoactive substance found in the cannabis sativa plant. Delta-8 was federally legalized in 2018 and has since become increasingly accessible in the United States, but the potential health effects of Delta-8 are still unknown. Monitoring the Future surveyed 12th grade students about their use of Delta-8, and 11.4% of 12th graders reported using Delta-8 in the past 12 months. Rates of Delta-8 use were lower in states where adult use of marijuana is legal which may indicate that adolescents are more likely to use Delta-8 if marijuana is less accessible to them.

To address the problem of substance use among adolescents and continue contributing to efforts to minimize the negative impacts of substance use in the United States, iRT has developed the Media World program. Adolescents are consistently exposed to media that communicate inaccurate or unhealthy messages about substances, which may, in turn, have negative impacts on adolescents’ beliefs about substances or their decisions to use substances. Media World is an engaging, instructor-led program designed to be taught to high school students to teach them skills they need to think critically about media messages that glamorize or disguise the true effects of substance use. Students participating in the Media World program learn facts about alcohol, tobacco, vaping, cannabis, steroid, caffeine, and prescription drug misuse. By participating in engaging program activities, students practice identifying and deconstructing harmful messages about substances in commercials, social media, packaging, print ads, and more. Then, students also engage in several media advocacy activities to be able to express their opinions about substance use in the media. For example, they create their own healthy media messages about substances in parodies of ads. They also learn how to file complaints about ads that violate industry-specific laws or guidelines to the appropriate legal or regulatory authority. Media World has been shown to impact several substance use-related outcomes for high school students, including reduced intentions to use substances and reduced beliefs about the prevalence of substance use among their peers.

Read the full 2023 Monitoring the Future report by following this link: To learn more about the Media World program for high school students, visit our website.