Results from the 2010 Dayton Area Drug Survey (DADS) suggest the long-running trend of declining drug use by teens may be ending.
The percentage of twelfth grade students who reported ever having been drunk on alcohol rose from 54.3 percent in 2008 to 55.2 percent in 2010, with similar increases for seventh and ninth graders. For the first time in many years, the percentage of teens reporting experience with cigarettes and smokeless tobacco also increased, as did the percentage reporting marijuana use.
While the increases were generally small, they may be a harbinger of an upward swing in youthful drug use. The findings follow the 2008 DADS results, which suggested the earlier declines in drug use among high school seniors may have stalled. The Dayton area appears to be following a national trend. Several recent national surveys also suggest the decline has leveled out and may be tilting upwards, at least for some drugs.
Conducted every two years, DADS is a cross-sectional study that provides estimates of teen drug use in the Dayton region. First administered in 1990, DADS is collaboration between the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addictions Research (CITAR) at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and area school districts. In spring 2010, 16,307 students from 15 Dayton-area school districts volunteered to participate in the anonymous survey. The majority of the sample was white (about 82 percent), suburban and nearly evenly split between boys and girls.
Alcohol remains the most widely used drug
Of the 3,049 twelfth graders surveyed, 71.8 percent reported drinking alcohol at least once in their lifetimes. Among the 55.2 percent who reported getting drunk at least once, 44.7 percent said they had done so 10 or more times. Some 26.7 percent of the respondents reported having had five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the two weeks before the survey. Among the 3,753 ninth graders surveyed, 45.4 percent reported lifetime experience with alcohol. Of the 25.7 percent who had been drunk at least once, 19.7 percent had been drunk 10 or more times. Having five or more drinks in a row in the two weeks before the survey was reported by 9.1 percent. Of the 2,949 seventh graders, 22.3 percent had drunk alcohol at least once, 7.0 percent had been drunk at least once (with 8.2 percent of them drunk 10 or more times) and 2.4 percent had five or more drinks in a row in the two weeks before the survey.
"DADS data on alcohol use reflect the scope of the substance abuse problem among young people in grades seven through twelve," said Russel Falck, associate director of CITAR and associate professor of community health. "Attitudes toward drinking alcohol are more tolerant than they are toward the use of other drugs. However, research on alcohol and brain development in adolescents suggests that alcohol use, heavy use in particular, is fraught with long-term, adverse consequences, and young teens who abuse alcohol are much more likely to become alcoholics than those who postpone drinking until they are older. Restrictions on alcohol advertising as part of a comprehensive effort to change teens' attitudes toward alcohol, as well as their drinking practices, should be seriously considered."
Cigarette use also up
DADS data show 41.6 percent of high school seniors reported some level of cigarette use, up from 39.8 percent in 2008. Similar increases also occurred among ninth and seventh grade students. Ohio now ranks 45th among states in funding tobacco prevention efforts, down from 2007, when it ranked 13th.
According to Falck, teenagers' alcohol and tobacco use is significant because the abuse of these drugs alone can result in a variety of health and social problems, some of which can last a lifetime. In addition, tobacco and alcohol are "gateway drugs," which often lead to the abuse of other drugs.
Abuse of several controlled substances increases
The percentage of twelfth grade students who reported using marijuana (or hashish) at least once increased significantly, from 39.4 percent in 2008 to 44.1 in 2010. The percentage of teens reporting daily marijuana use, defined in DADS as having used the drug 20 or more times in the 30 days before the study, also increased, from 4.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent in 2010. Lifetime marijuana use was reported by 22.0 percent of ninth graders, with 2.3 percent reporting daily use. Nearly 5 percent of seventh graders reported having used marijuana at least once.
Among twelfth graders, increases occurred in the lifetime use of non-prescribed prescription drugs. These include depressants such as the benzodiazepines, opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, amphetamine and methylphenidate. Increases in the number of young people who have used cocaine HCl, hallucinogens and inhalants were also noted. The use of dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough and cold preparations, increased from 3.8 percent in 2008 to 6.2 percent in 2010. However, the reported use of crack cocaine and steroids decreased, as did the use of over-the-counter diet and stay-awake pills. The percentages of twelfth graders reporting use of ecstasy and methamphetamine in their lifetimes were unchanged from 2008.
"The good news in the 2010 DADS findings is that the percentage of young people who use drugs other than alcohol, tobacco and marijuana heavily is very small, much less than 1 percent of the sample in any given grade," said Falck.
Drug use and driving explored
The 2010 survey also asked high school seniors if they had ridden in a motor vehicle when they believed the driver was under the influence of alcohol or other non-medical drugs (other than caffeine or tobacco). 45.7 percent said they had, essentially the same as in 2008. Among these, 60.6 percent reported that they had done so more than once or twice. When asked if they had driven a motor vehicle while under the influence, 27.8 percent reported they had. Among these, 57.1 percent reported they had done so more than once or twice.
49.2 percent of high school seniors reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes, while 29.3 percent reported having used an illicit drug other than marijuana at least once. In contrast, 21.8 percent of high school seniors reported they had never used alcohol, tobacco or any illicit drugs. Essentially equal proportions of girls and boys were abstemious.
Very problematic use
DADS included a screening test for clinically defined problematic drug use, developed by physicians and other researchers at Harvard Medical School. Data from twelfth grade students responding to the screening test suggests that 17.5 percent have had or currently have substance use practices indicative of drug dependence.
Non drug-related issues also affect local kids
Drug use was not the only topic covered by the survey. Among other issues affecting area youth, DADS found:
- 26.1 percent of seventh graders, 21.8 percent of ninth graders and 13 percent of twelfth graders felt bullied by other teens in the 30 days before the survey;
- 13.4 percent of seventh graders, 11 percent of ninth graders and 7.8 percent of twelfth graders got into a physical fight with someone in the 30 days before the survey;
- 3.5 percent of seventh graders, 6.3 percent of ninth graders and 12.4 percent of twelfth graders missed school without the permission of a parent or guardian in the 30 days before the survey;
- 54.5 percent of twelfth graders were employed outside of the home or school; and
- About 84 percent of seventh graders, 86 percent of ninth graders and 89 percent of twelfth graders considered themselves to be happy or very happy with their lives, while the remainder considered themselves to be unhappy or very unhappy.
"Overall, DADS results suggest the need for ongoing, intensive drug abuse prevention programs in the schools that extend beyond the ninth grade, when such efforts currently often end," said Falck. "Our data suggest that the percentage of teenagers who will get drunk for the first time will double between the ninth and twelfth grades. Marijuana use will also come close to doubling. Implementing and sustaining evidence-based, public health-oriented school and community prevention programs can help decrease drug-related problems among teens."
The schools and classes participating in DADS are not randomly selected. Therefore, the results are limited to districts that participated in the study. For more DADS results, see the DADS pages on the medical school web site.