Highlights from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Monitoring the Future 2005 Survey

This annual survey asks students in grades eight, ten, and twelve about drug use. Overall the results are positive. Although no statistically significant declines were found from 2004 to 2005 in illicit drug use, overall drug use has declined by 19 percent since 2001. This continues a downward trend that began in the mid-1990s. The decrease since 2001 has largely been in marijuana use.

Cigarette smoking: Cigarette smoking remains at an all-time low. The decline was not significant from 2004 to 2005 though, and indications are that the decline may be leveling off based on eighth grade figures. The decrease in smoking was statistically significant from the mid-1990s to 2005.

Alcohol use: Alcohol use among all grades has continued to decline since the mid-1990s, but there was no overall statistically significant decline from 2004 to 2005. Alcohol use for each grade decreased within a specific period of time, such as lifetime, past 30 days, or past year use. Past day use did not decline in any age group from 2004 to 2005, however, and daily drunkenness seems to have decreased only minimally over the past couple of years.

Prescription drug abuse: Perhaps most concerning is the non-medical use of prescription medications among twelfth graders. This increase was statistically significant from 2002 to 2005, showing a continual upward trend from 2002. Also, there was an increase from 2002 to 2005 in lifetime and past-year use of inhalants (i.e., that can be obtained among kitchen supplies) among eighth graders.

Methamphetamines: Findings suggest that the total number of individuals who use methamphetamines is remaining stable. This finding is also supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2005). The SAMHSA report does suggest, however, that problems may be getting worse among those who use methamphetamines. Growing numbers who use methamphetamines are now meeting the criteria for illicit drug dependence or abuse in the past 12 months. Those who met these criteria included 164,000 (27.5 percent of methamphetamine users) in 2002 to 346,000 (59.3 percent of users) in 2004.

Concerning findings: Findings among eighth graders are particularly concerning, as they project future use and attitudes of tenth and twelfth graders. Eighth grade is a time when youth often first develop habits and attitudes about drug use. The fact that eighth graders are not showing declines as seen in past years suggests that numbers could stop improving, or even reverse among tenth and twelfth graders in two and four years.

SAMHSA (2006) has also released new data about the age of initial use by individuals admitted to facilities for substance use (excluding alcohol). There are two ways to assess “age of first use,” beginning with the earliest age at which any use occurred. Data comparing 1993 versus 2003 indicate that in 1993, 12 percent of those admitted to facilities began using illicit substances before age 13, and in 2003 that number had increased to 14 percent. A second way of assessing “age of first use” is the average age at which a person began using. Data indicate that in 1993 the average age of first use was 18.8, and in 2003 that number had dropped to 18.6. These data do not represent a sample, but rather include statistics derived from the entire population of approximately 1.8 million annual admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities.

Methodology issues: The study randomly sampled children in public and private schools. Thus, children who dropped out (probably few eighth graders because of education requirements) or were expelled were not included in the survey. One possible concern is that, if there has been increased enforcement in recent years, the worst abusers may have been expelled, and therefore were not surveyed. Also, disadvantaged and minority children, who are less likely to complete high school, may be under-represented.


  • Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2005). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2004. Volume I: Secondary school students (NIH Publication No. 05-5727). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at: Monitoring the Future.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), (2006). Age of first use among admissions for drugs: 1993 and 2003, The Drug and Alcohol Services Information System Report, Issue 4, 2006. Office of Applied Studies: Rockville, MD.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2005). National survey on drug use and health. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies.