In the forty years since the seventies, bell bottoms morphed into skinny jeans, disco gave way to electronic dance music and teens smoked less pot. But trend watchers know, there’s nothing like time to make something old seem new again.

The Monitoring the Future survey, which has tracked teen substance use every year since 1975, shows usage rates for many drugs are at the lowest level in the survey’s history. Such good news is only part of the story. Experts warn teens need truthful information about drug dangers to keep certain drugs from becoming popular again.[1]

Fortunately, education about addictive substances hits the mark in many communities. Educators and community officials are more sophisticated in the way they discuss drugs and alcohol and drug use rates are down as a result. Instead of scare tactics and emotional manipulation that offer incomplete information, education efforts are more factual to give teens get a fuller picture.[2]

Teens and Drugs: Decades of Use

Teens experiment and their dabbling is a necessary but risky part of growing up. When teens experiment with drugs and alcohol, however, the costs are high. Teen brains react more efficiently to drugs, putting them in danger of addiction and other health problems.[3]

As the number of teens with substance problems falls, it’s easy for teens to be complacent about drug use since they’re not seeing as many peers use drugs and experience negative consequences.Highlighting drug trends plays a role in keeping kids informed. More than 40 years ago, overall substance use rates were higher. After dropping in the 1980s, rates rose again in the 1990s. Researchers believe it’s important to spread messages about drug risks at all times, because of the tendency of teens to use substances when they believe it’s not harmful.1

Many factors lead to substance use and addiction, but researchers still debate how much impact peer pressure has versus societal pressures. Studies show a strong correlation between hanging out with kids who use drugs and drug use. The impact of friends on a teen can be greater than cultural norms, family relationships or education programs.[4]

Still, falling drug trends show communities are learning from past mistakes. Some researchers believe false messages spread about drugs in the 1960s led to higher rates of experimentation in the 1970s. Drug availability grew in the 1960s – marijuana and heroin use rose and Harvard professors promoted the use of LSD. To discourage teens from using marijuana, teachers and community leaders told them it caused acne, blindness and sterility. Teens associated these messages with manipulation and felt more comfortable trying the drug.[5]

In the 1970s, more teens reported trying drugs and alcohol than today’s teens. The most commonly used drug by high school seniors in 1975 (% who have tried the drug) were the following:1

  1. Marijuana (47.3%)
  1. Amphetamines (22.3%)
  1. Sedatives (18.2%) (drugs including barbiturates such as Nembutal (phenobarbital))
  1. Tranquilizers (17.0%) (drugs including Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan)
  1. LSD (11.3%)
  1. Cocaine (9.0%)

By 2016, drug use trends varied significantly. After a cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, teens tried more hallucinogens in the 1990s, particularly LSD. The number of teens trying drugs in all categories is significantly down from the 1970s, the only exception is marijuana use. The following are the most commonly tried drugs for 2016:[6]

  1. Marijuana (44.5%)
  1. Amphetamines (10%)
  1. Narcotics other than heroin (Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc.) (7.8%)
  1. Tranquilizers (7.6%)
  1. Hallucinogens (6.7%)
  1. Sedatives (5.2%)

Opiates and inhalants made significant gains over the past several years, and marijuana continues to remain on top of the list. Also, the amphetamines kids took in 1975 were traditional “uppers,” but in 2016more amphetamine use included crystal meth – a far more dangerous drug.

Any teen struggling with drug abuse needs help immediately.Contact the admissions coordinators Michael’s House today to learn more about options in your area as well as special programs designed specifically for teens.


[1] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2017). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2016: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2017 from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2016.pdf.

[2] Malich, Sarah & Stone, Molly. (2015). Why Scare Tactics Don’t Work. Power Point presentation at People, Partnerships, Possibilities. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2017 from http://www.dhhr.wv.gov/bhhf/ibhc/Documents/Presentations1115/Scare%20Tactics%20BH%20conference%20%2082115.pdf.

[3] Fuhrmann, Delia; Knoll, Lisa J.; & Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne. (2015). Adolescence as a Sensitive Period of Brain Development. Trends in Cognitive Science. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2017 from http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(15)00172-2.

[4] Mason, M.J., Mennis, J., Linker, J. et al. (2014). Peer Attitudes Effects on Adolescent Substance Use: The Moderating Role of Race and Gender. Prevention Science. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2017 from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11121-012-0353-7.

[5] Robison, Jennifer. (2002). Decades of Drug Use: Data From the ’60s and ’70s. Gallup. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2017 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/6331/decades-drug-use-data-from-60s-70s.aspx.

[6] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., &Bachman, J. G. (1998). National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Survey, 1975-1997. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2017 from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-vol1_1997.pdf.