Is Pre-Teen Drug Abuse Common?

Parents across the U.S. are understandably concerned about the possibility that their children will get involved in some form of drug abuse. While worries may center on teenagers, you may also wonder if your pre-teen child has any significant risk for drug abuse. Nationwide figures indicate that drug use at this age is somewhat common, but (with one notable exception) still much less likely to occur than in teenagers. Pre-teens can still benefit from drug and alcohol treatments and should seek them out before their addictions worsen.

Monitoring the Future

The most reliable information on teenage drug abuse statistics comes from an annual survey project called Monitoring the Future (MTF), sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by the University of Michigan. This project does not include data on pre-teens. However, it does include nationwide data on eighth graders (typically age 13), as well as older kids in the 10th and 12th grades. We can use figures from Monitoring the Future to get a clear idea of the differences in drug use rates for pre-teens and older children.

Much Lower Rates for Almost All Substances

MTF figures for the year 2016 show that eighth graders, just one year past the pre-teen stage, use almost all substances much less often than 10th graders and 12th graders. For example:

  • Just 12.8% of eighth graders have ever used marijuana (compared to 29.7% of 10th graders and 44.5% of 12th graders)
  • Just 3.4% of eighth graders have ever used any form of cocaine (compared to 4.8% of 10th graders and 8.4% of 12th graders), and
  • Just 1.9% of all eighth graders have ever used a hallucinogen (compared to 4.4% of 10th graders and 6.7% of 12th graders)

Inhalants Are the Exception

The data from Monitoring the Future consistently shows that pre-teens have higher chances of consuming one group of substances: the makeshift drugs known as inhalants. Current data indicates that 7.7% of all eighth graders have used one of these substances. In contrast, rates of inhalant use among 10th graders and 12th graders are just 6.6% and 5.0%, respectively.

Overall Figures and Trends

Overall, roughly 21% of all eighth graders have ever used some sort of illicit/illegal drug. This figure compares to 36% of all 10th graders and fully 49% of all 12th graders. It’s worth noting that drug use in general is largely falling among adolescents of all ages. In fact, current teenage drug abuse statistics show that the use of several substances is at the lowest level ever recorded. These substances include:

  • Inhalants
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Tobacco/nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Heroin, and
  • Methamphetamine

Sources Monitoring the Future: 2016 Overview – Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use National Institute on Drug Abuse: Monitoring the Future 2016 Survey Results                  

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