According to new data released from Monitoring the Future Survey, 2021 observed the largest 1-year decrease in overall illicit substance use reported among adolescents since 1975! The survey is conducted annually to measure drug and alcohol use and related attitudes among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders within the U.S. public and private schools. Analysis of this data finds that adolescents in all three grades reported significant decreases in past year nicotine vaping, all forms of marijuana use, any illicit drug use, as well as alcohol use with the exception of 8th graders whose past year alcohol use remained stable from 2020. This survey also measured changes in drug use since the pandemic among past year adolescent users, finding both self-reported smoking and vaping marijuana slightly higher while the use of marijuana edibles, cigarette smoking, getting drunk, and the nonmedical use of tranquilizers and amphetamines decreased.

While overall optimistic, we must use caution as this data was collected in the early months of 2021, from February through June when many students continued to learn remotely from home and therefore less likely to be confronted with opportunities to engage in substance use. Furthermore, the survey collected data on various mental health symptoms and students across all age groups reported having increased changes in all mental health symptoms asked. As this data is released upon the heels of the U.S. Surgeon General issuing an Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis, we must ensure prevention is prioritized and youth feel supported, provided with access to care, and empowered with knowledge and proper coping skills so they don’t initiate into substance use and other risky behaviors for their overall health and well-being.