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Commonly Abused Drugs

Graphic that indicates drug use among 12th graders. Specific data collected, shown in following tables.*non-medical use"

2012 Monitoring the Future Study

Findings from recent Monitoring the Future (MTF) surveys indicate that marijuana and prescription medications are among the most abused drugs by 8th, 10th and 12 graders. Above is a graphic that indicates past-year drug use among 12th graders.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a short-acting stimulant, which can lead abusers to "binge" (to take the drug many times in a single session). Cocaine abuse can lead to severe medical consequences related to the heart and the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 1.9 3.3 4.9
Past Year 1.2 2.0 2.7
Past Month 0.5 0.8 1.1

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on cocaine please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about cocaine use and its health consequences, go to our Cocaine drug page.

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance. This drug impairs short-term memory and learning, the ability to focus, and coordination. It also increases heart rate, can harm the lungs, and may increase the risk of psychosis in vulnerable individuals.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 15.2 33.8 45.2
Past Year 11.4 28.0 36.4
Past Month 6.5 17.0 22.9

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on marijuana please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about marijuana use and its health consequences, go to our Marijuana drug page.

Synthetic Cannabinoids (Spice/K2)

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Past Year 4.4 8.8 11.3

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on nicotine please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about synthetic cannabinoids and their health consequences, go to our Spice page.

Cigarettes

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant found in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. Tobacco smoke increases a user's risk of cancer, emphysema, bronchial disorders, and cardiovascular disease. The mortality rate associated with tobacco addiction is staggering. Tobacco use killed approximately 100 million people during the 20th century and, if current smoking trends continue, the cumulative death toll for this century is projected to reach 1 billion.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 15.5 27.7 39.5
Past Month 4.9 10.8 17.1
Daily 1.9 5.0 9.3

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on nicotine please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about nicotine use and its health consequences, go to our Nicotine drug page.

Heroin

Heroin is a powerful opiate drug that produces euphoria and feelings of relaxation. It slows respiration and can increase the risk of serious infectious diseases, especially when taken intravenously. Other opioid drugs include morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percodan, which have legitimate medical uses; however, their nonmedical use or abuse can result in the same harmful consequences as heroin abuse.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 0.8 1.1 1.1
Past Year 0.5 0.6 0.6
Past Month 0.2 0.4 0.3

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on heroin please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about heroin use and its health consequences, go to our Heroin drug page.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

Prescription medications and some over-the-counter medications are increasingly being abused (used for nonmedical purposes). This practice can be addictive, and in some cases, lethal. Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its prevalence among teenagers and young adults, as well as the common misperception that because physicians prescribe these medications, they are safe even when used not as prescribed. Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioid painkillers, stimulants, and depressants.

Commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Opioids are usually prescribed for pain relief. Commonly prescribed opioids include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin), morphine, fentanyl, and codeine.
  • Stimulants: Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Metadate) and amphetamines (Adderall, Dexedrine) are stimulants commonly prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Depressants are usually prescribed to promote sleep or to reduce anxiety. As measured by national surveys, depressants are often categorized as sedatives or tranquilizers. Sedatives primarily include barbiturates (e.g., phenobarbitol) but also comprise sleep medications such as Ambien and Lunesta. Tranquilizers primarily include benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, but also include muscle relaxants and other anti-anxiety medications.

For more information about prescription drug abuse and its health consequences, go to our Prescription Medications drug page.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines, including methamphetamine, are powerful stimulants that can produce feelings of euphoria and alertness. Methamphetamine's effects are particularly long lasting and harmful to the brain. Amphetamines can cause high body temperature and can lead to serious heart problems and seizures.

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on amphetamines please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about methamphetamine use and its health consequences, go to our Methamphetamine drug page.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Opiate Painkillers: OxyContin      
Past Year 1.6 3.0 4.3
Opiate Painkillers: Vicodin      
Past Year 1.3 4.4 7.5
Sedatives1      
Lifetime ––– ––– 6.9
Past Year ––– ––– 4.5
Past Month ––– ––– 2.0
Tranquilizers2      
Lifetime 3.0 6.3 8.5
Past Year 1.8 4.3 5.3
Past Month 0.8 1.7 2.1
Adderall      
Past Year 1.7 4.5 7.6
Ritalin      
Past Year 0.7 1.9 2.6
Cough or Cold Medicines3      
Past Year 3.0 4.7 5.6
Methamphetamine      
Lifetime 1.3 1.8 1.7
Past Year 1.0 1.0 1.1
Past Month 0.5 0.6 0.5
Amphetamines      
Lifetime 4.5 8.9 12.0
Past Year 2.9 6.5 7.9
Past Month 1.3 2.8 3.3

1 Also known as "downers" and "sleeping aids."
2 The most commonly reported drugs in this category are Valium and Xanax.
3 Used with the intent to get high.

Anabolic Steroids

Steroids, which can also be prescribed for certain medical conditions, are abused to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance or physical appearance. Serious consequences of abuse can include heart disease, liver problems, stroke, infectious diseases, depression, and suicide. Less serious side effects include severe acne.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 1.2 1.3 1.8
Past Year 0.6 0.8 1.3
Past Month 0.3 0.4 0.9

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on anabolic steroids please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about anabolic steroid use and its health consequences, go to our Steroids drug page.

Inhalants

Inhalants are volatile substances found in many household products, (such as oven cleaners, gasoline, spray paints, and other aerosols,) that induce mind-altering effects. Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain. Even a healthy person can suffer heart failure and death within minutes of a single session of the prolonged sniffing of an inhalant.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 11.8 9.9 7.9
Past Year 6.2 4.1 2.9
Past Month 2.7 1.4 0.9

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on inhalants please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about inhalant use and its health consequences, go to our Inhalants drug page.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption can damage the brain and most body organs. Areas of the brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem solving and decisionmaking), the hippocampus (important for memory and learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 29.5 54.0 69.4
Past Year 23.6 48.5 63.5
Past Month 11.0 27.6 41.5

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on alcohol please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about alcohol use and its health consequences, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Web site at www.niaaa.nih.gov.

Club Drugs and Hallucinogens

Ecstasy (MDMA) produces both stimulant and mind-altering effects. It can increase body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart-wall stress. Ecstasy may also be toxic to nerve cells.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 2.0 5.0 7.2
Past Year 1.1 3.0 3.8
Past Month 0.5 1.0 0.9

LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogenic, or perception-altering, drugs. Its effects are unpredictable, and abusers may see vivid colors and images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Abusers also may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth; and tremors.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Lifetime 1.3 2.6 3..8
Past Year 0.8 1.7 2.4
Past Month 0.3 0.5 0.8

Rohypnol and GHB are predominantly central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Because they are often colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be easily added to beverages and ingested unknowingly. Thus, these drugs have come to be known as "date rape" drugs.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Rohypnol      
Lifetime 1.0 0.8 –––
Past Year 0.4 0.5 1.5
Past Month 0.1 0.2 –––
GHB      
Past Year ––– ––– 1.4
Ketamine      
Past Year ––– ––– 1.5
Salvia      
Past Year 1.4 2.5 4.4

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on club drugs, please visit DrugFacts - High School and Youth Trends.

For more information about these and other club drugs go to our Club Drugs page.

Synthetic Cathinones (“Bath Salts”)

“Bath salts” refers to synthetic drugs that contain chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found in the Khat plant. The synthetic cathinones in “bath salts” can produce euphoria and increased sociability and sex drive, but some users experience paranoia, agitation, and hallucinatory delirium; some even display psychotic and violent behavior, and deaths have been reported in several instances. These reports make “bath salts” a serious and growing public health and safety issue.

  8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Past Year 0.8 0.6 1.3

For more information about “bath salts” use and its health consequences, go to www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/synthetic-cathinones-bath-salts.

Monitoring the Future is updated annually. For the latest Monitoring the Future statistics on “bath salts,” please visit www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/high-school-youth-trends.

This page was last updated December 2012

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