Adolescent Substance Use Decreased in the Past Year: NIDA 2021 Monitoring the Future Findings

Monitoring the Future, an annual survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and conducted by the University of Michigan, measures drug and alcohol use among adolescent students across the United States. Results from the 2021 survey show that adolescent substance use decreased significantly among all participants in the past year. The students who participate in this survey report their substance use behaviors over their lifetime, past year, and past month. The 2021 survey included 32,260 students in 319 public and private schools.



Highlights from the study include:

  • Alcohol remains the top substance used by 12th graders (46.5%), closely followed by vaping (31.5%), and marijuana (30.5%).

  • An overall decrease in drug use among youth in grades 8, 10, and 12 (except in the use of marijuana vaping and marijuana smoking).

  • An increase in mental health challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include an increase in anxiety, anger, annoyance, boredom, sadness, depression, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.

  • Since 1997, marijuana use has continued around 5-7%. There has been little change in access to marijuana regardless of increase in medical marijuana policies among states.

  • The main sources where youth acquire drugs continues to be primarily from 1) prescription; 2) purchased from a friend/relative; and 3) given by a friend/family member.

  • Cigarette smoking in 1991 was around 40-60% while it is now between 20-30% for all three grades.

  • Alcohol consumption continues to have a modest decrease among youth. About 50%of students believe there is a great risk in consuming five or more drinks every weekend.

While there are many potential reasons to explain the decrease in the use of certain drugs over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic is one variable which should be considered. While students were remote learning, they had less access to their peers, increased time around their parents, and overall quarantine and social distancing measures.


Click here for the full announcement from NIDA.