Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Today’s teens aren’t as into drugs, alcohol, or theft

Research from various sources indicates that the rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, pregnancy, abortions, sexual activity, and crime are declining among teens. My guess is that the normalization of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” (and in the case of gangsta rap, crime) has made all of these things boring and uninteresting.

Today’s teens are far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs, and are also less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according to a study of more than 200,000 teens.

The findings come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of 12- to 17-year-olds from all 50 states that is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The data include information from 2003 through 2014, the last year for which survey numbers are available. A total of 210,599 teens—13,000 to 18,500 each year—were part of the study.

The number of substance-use disorders among 12- to 17-year olds declined by 49 percent over the 12-year span, along with a simultaneous 34 percent decline in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting, assault, stealing, selling drugs, or carrying a handgun.

The drop in substance abuse among teens parallels findings in other recent surveys, but until now no one has looked at how the drop-off may be linked to other behavioral issues.

“We’ve known that teens overall are becoming less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and that’s good news,” says Richard A. Grucza, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and first author of the study in Psychological Medicine.


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