The XX Factor

Boring Teens Are Drinking, Smoking, Drugging Less Every Year

No, thanks.

New survey results from Monitoring the Future and the University of Michigan indicate that American teenagers are drinking, smoking, and drugging far less than their forebears.

The annual poll of more than 40,000 students in around 400 U.S. high schools recorded a peak in alcohol use in 1997, when 61 percent of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders reported drinking alcohol in the past year. Today, that population sits at 40 percent, the lowest it’s been since the study’s start in 1975. Ditto the proportion of students who’d consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, which now rests at 22 percent.

Cigarette use among teens peaked in 1996-1997, too—blame the European influence of the Spice World cast—and has been steadily declining since then, to hit a new low this year. In 1996, 49 percent of teens surveyed had tried cigarettes. This year, only 13 percent said they had. Seven percent of students said they’d smoked in the past 30 days, compared to eight percent just last year.

Rates of binge drinking, which has been a major concern for parents of teens for years, have also been steadily falling, from a peak of 22 percent to 11 percent today. Teens who report extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks in a row) make up just 6.1 percent of the three combined grade populations, compared to 10.6 percent in 2005, when the rate was first measured.

And despite—or maybe because of—the country’s recent freakout over teens using synthetic weed and MDMA, reported use of both have declined since last year. None of the drugs Monitoring the Future tracks showed any statistically significant increase in use among teens.