Drug, alcohol, tobacco abuse rising among California teens

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

California high school students’ consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs is headed up, according to a nationwide study of teen substance abuse released in April.

A chart showing illicit drug use levels in the U.S.

The report, released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, compared substance abuse statistics from their latest survey, in 2004, with statistics collected in 2002. It was based on interviews of more than 135,000 people.

Nationwide, the rate of underaged drinking remained basically unchanged, but in California, it rose from 15.28 percent of California children between 12 and 17-years-old who said they had consumed alcohol in the previous month in 2002, to 16.81 percent who said they had in 2004.

Binge drinking, defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least one day in the past 30 days, was reported by 10.27 percent of kids in 2004, up from the 9.16 percent who said they binged in 2002.

The report found that, in 2004, 10.9 percent of the nation’s kids from the ages of 12 to 17 had used an illegal drug in the past month, down from 11.4 percent in 2002.

In California, the number of kids who said they had used an illicit drug in the past month rose, from 11.44 percent in 2002 to 12.05 percent in 2004.

Among California’s 12- to 17-year-olds, those who said they had used marijuana in the previous month rose from 7.66 percent in 2002 to 8.52 percent in 2004. Those who had used marijuana in the past year rose from 14.11 percent to 14.6 percent over the period.

Only cocaine use was down among the age group, from 1.7 percent who said they had used it in the past year to 1.61 percent.

The use of any illicit drug, other than marijuana, in the month preceding the interviews of the 12- to 17-year-olds rose from 5.79 percent to 5.97 percent, according to the report. Nearly 8 percent of the age group in California had used pain relievers for “non-medical” purposes, such as getting high, the survey reported, a topic not explored in the previous survey.

More than 9 percent of California kids from 12-17 said they were abusers of or dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs in the 2004 survey, up from just over 8 percent in 2002.

Tobacco use, including chewing tobacco, increased in the age group from 9.22 percent to 10.88 percent. Cigarette smoking rose from 7.48 percent to 8.69 percent. Fewer smokers, however, reported being at great risk of smoking a pack or more a day.

The report, State Estimates of Substance Use from the 2003-2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, issued April 6, estimates state rates of use of illegal drugs, binge and underage drinking, serious mental illness and tobacco use. SAMHSA combined two years of data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health to enhance the precision of estimates for the less populous states.

The report shows that California increased from 24.7 percent of 12 to 20 year olds using alcohol in the past month to 26.3 percent, while Wisconsin increased from 34.7 percent to 38.3 percent. Michigan and South Carolina, however, showed decreases in underage drinking from 31.8 percent to 30.2 percent for Michigan and from 27.3 percent to 24.1 percent for South Carolina.

For illegal drug use, six states registered decreases in current use among youth ages 12-17, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Virginia. There were no statistically significant increases in current drug use among youth in any state, and there were no increases in either the 18-to-25 year old age group or the 26- and -older age group.

“While we are making progress on drug and tobacco use among youth, underage drinking continues as a stubbornly persistent problem,” SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie said. “It’s time to change attitudes toward teen drinking from acceptance to abstinence. It begins by recognizing the importance of parents talking to their children early and often about alcohol, especially before they’ve started drinking.”

The estimates show that past month use of any illicit drug in 2003-2004 ranged from a low of 5.8 percent in Mississippi to a high of 11.8 percent in Alaska for all persons aged 12 and older. Four jurisdictions showed decreases from 2002-2003 in current use of any illicit drug: the District of Columbia, Florida, Nevada and Washington.

“State-by-state data is a powerful tool for policymakers at the federal, state and local levels to identify needs and target prevention and treatment resources. It is clear from the findings that illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use varies substantially among states and regions. That is why we continue to work though innovative programs like Access to Recovery to increase the flexibility of federal funding available to states and communities,” Curie said.

Mississippi and Utah had the lowest rate of past month marijuana use (4.2 percent) in 2003-2004 for population ages 12 and older, while Alaska had the highest rate (9.9 percent). Eight states were ranked in the top fifth nationally for past month marijuana use in all three age groups, 12 to 17, 18 to 25 and 26 and older. These states are Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Seven jurisdictions had decreases in past month use of marijuana between 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 for those ages 12 and older: Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Washington.

Rhode Island had the highest percentage of persons aged 12 or older using cocaine in the past year, 3.5 percent. Ohio was the only state to show a decline in the use of cocaine in the past year, from 2.5 percent to 2.1 percent of persons aged 12 and older.

In the District of Columbia and Hawaii, approximately 3.1 percent of those 12 or older used narcotic pain relievers nonmedically, while 6.3 percent of those in Kentucky did. Washington and Kentucky were in the highest fifth for use of prescription pain relievers nonmedically in all three age groups. Arkansas and Maine had increases in the 12-17 age group, while California, Montana and New York had increases in nonmedical use of prescription pain medications among those ages 18 to 25. A decrease in nonmedical use of pain relievers was seen among those ages 12 and older in Hawaii (from 3.9 to 3.1 percent).

Eight states were in the top fifth for both underage use of alcohol and underage binge use of alcohol: Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Tobacco use in the past month by youth increased in California, but overall in California, tobacco use by those 12 and older fell from 22.5 percent to 20.7 percent due to a decrease among persons aged 26 and older. In Kansas, the percentage of persons aged 18-25 using tobacco in the past month increased from 45.7 percent to 49.9 percent.

The data show that West Virginia had the highest rate of serious psychological distress among persons aged 18 and older in the past year (12.7 percent) while Hawaii had the lowest rate (7.1 percent). Increases in serious psychological distress appeared in 10 states, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming, generally the result of increases among persons aged 26 and older.

Icon of loudspeaker
This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2006-05-03 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)