- Today's teens perceive alcohol and substance abuse as less risky than teens did in the past, even as there have been significant declines in alcohol and drug use among students in grades 9-12 since 2009, according to the School Health Profiles report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- In 2019, a third of youth ages 12-17 (34.6%) perceived great risk of harm from smoking marijuana weekly, a drop from 40.6% in 2015. More than three-quarters of teens in 2019 (78.7%) perceived great risk from weekly cocaine use, down slightly from 80.2% in 2016, and 63.5% perceived great risk of harm from daily binge drinking in 2019, down from 65.5% in 2016.
- Even as drug and alcohol use among youth has declined, schools should sustain prevention programs as they are effective in delaying or preventing substance use at all, as well as in preventing escalated use, the report said.
The pandemic has contributed to risk factors for poor mental health, substance abuse and suicide in teens, according to the Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, which is a separate CDC data collection than the School Health Profiles.
"What we saw in that data was that substance use was really still too common during the pandemic," said Kathleen Ethier, director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the CDC. Ethier spoke at an Aug. 24 webinar on youth substance abuse and mental health hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey, conducted in the spring of 2021, found one in five high school students reported alcohol use in the 30 days before the survey. More than one in 10 students said they used marijuana in the 30 days before the survey, and one in 10 said they ever used illicit drugs, Ethier said.
According to the School Health Profiles, nearly 60% of schools taught all nine of the CDC's listed drug and alcohol prevention topics in the 2019-20 school year. Prevention topics include understanding the differences between abuse and proper use of over-the-counter medication and prescription medicine, and harmful short-term and long-term physical, psychological and social effects of using alcohol and other drugs.
"Schools are noted as an optimal prevention setting because of the existence of evidence-based programs that are effective in deterring and delaying substance use and are also cost-effective," the report said.
Ethier said results from the School Health Profiles "provide a valuable insight into how hard schools have been working, especially during the pandemic, to keep students connected and to provide opportunities for increasing connectedness."
The School Health Profiles began in 1996 as a way to monitor school health policies in secondary schools. Data on a variety of topics — such as physical and health education, safe and supportive environments, and family engagement — are collected every two years.
The most recent profiles report is CDC's first routine surveillance assessment of school health programs since the pandemic. Data collection for this report extended into December 2020. The report includes national, state and some district data.