BEHAVIOR
January 22, 2016

A Profile of College Drug Use

Binge drinking and marijuana use are up, but some other drug use is down on college campuses.

Are colleges really hotbeds of illegal drug use? The latest national survey paints a mixed picture: marijuana use remains high, while many other drugs, such as narcotics and tranquilizers, appear to be declining in popularity on campus, though they remain problems elsewhere.

The Monitoring the Future study is now in its 41st year and has been surveying college students about drug use yearly since 1980. It also surveys other adults, high school students and middle school students.

About one in eight college students (13%) reported having 10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two weeks, and one in twenty (5%) reported having 15 or more drinks in a row.

Overall, more college students report not taking illicit drugs than report taking them. In 2014, 39% said they had taken an illicit drug in the past 12 months, a decline from the 41% who said so in 2013. This reverses a seven-year trend of increases, starting with the 34% who replied yes in 2006.

For those who do indulge, marijuana is the drug of choice. The percentage of students reporting marijuana use in the past thirty days is now 21%, more than one student out of five. Like collegiate drug use in general, this seems to have leveled off after increasing for the past seven years. But 5.9%, one student out of 17, now say they use marijuana daily, the highest percentage since 1980.

Much of that increase may be due to the fact that fewer adolescents and young adults now consider marijuana use as dangerous. While 55 percent of all 19-to-22-year-old high school graduates saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, only 35 percent in 2014 do.

But interest in many other types of drugs is declining, with narcotic and tranquilizer use on campus both at approximately half the level they were a decade ago, though the rise in addiction to prescription painkillers and the opioid addiction it feeds would seem to contradict this finding. And two newer drugs that have been sensationalized by the media, synthetic marijuana and salvia, have both shown even steeper declines. Use of several other drugs that have been in the limelight, including bath salts and ketamine, remains low.

Cocaine use may be rising, with 4.4% reporting using it in the last year, compared to 2.7% in 2013, but amphetamine use, which nearly doubled between 2008 (5.8%) and 2012 (11.1%), leveled off at 10.1% in 2014.

The surveys also looked at alcohol and tobacco use. While drinking is quite common, students reporting being drunk in the past 30 days fell to 43% in 2014, down from the 48% who reported this in 2006.

Binge drinking remains high, and its rate hasn't changed much in the past two decades. About one in eight college students (13%) reported having 10 or more drinks in a row at least once in the prior two weeks, and one in twenty (5%) reported having 15 or more drinks in a row. Most of the binge drinkers were male.

Cigarette use has declined, with 13% saying they had smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days, way down from the high of 31% in 1999. Only 5% say they smoke cigarettes daily.

But college students are still smoking. Hookah use has been on the rise, with 33% of students reporting they had used a hookah in the last 12 months. And now there are e-cigarettes, measured by the survey for the first time in 2014. Only 9.7% of college students reported using them in the last month. But with 8th, 10th and 12th graders reporting monthly e-cigarette use of 9%, 16%, and 17% respectively, that figure may be headed upwards.

The surveys, all 416 pages of them, are available in PDF form.

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