A Pawleys Island physician who specializes in addiction medicine is encouraged by new data showing historic lows in teen drug and alcohol use but cautioned against complacency in prevention and recovery efforts.
The 2016 Monitoring the Future study, now in its 42nd year, surveyed a total of about 45,000 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades. It found that teen use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco declined significantly in 2016, with overall rates at their lowest levels since the 1990s.
The only exception was marijuana use among 10th- and 12th-grade students, which has stayed steady. About 6 percent of high school seniors, the equivalent of one in 17 students, reported using marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis.
Tidelands Health physician Dr. Victor Archambeau, a longtime advocate for strengthening substance-abuse recovery programming, said he was heartened by the overall trend but warned against relaxing prevention and recovery efforts. That’s particularly true in South Carolina, he said, where teen substance-abuse rates tend to be higher than the national average and where there are fewer resources for recovery than in other states.
“Its good news that it’s getting better, but I think unfortunately in South Carolina we are in a little bit behind,” said Dr. Archambeau, a family physician with Tidelands Island Family Care in Pawleys Island. “We still have a long way to go.”
For example, he pointed to the study’s findings on alcohol. Thirty-seven percent of high school seniors reported being drunk at least once in the previous year, a decline from a high of 53 percent.
“It’s still a lot though,” he said. “That’s over one-third of kids who have been drunk.”
Dr. Archambeau said the best way to discourage substance abuse is by personalizing the message, rather than using a top-down approach reliant on law enforcement or other authority figures. He urged campaigns to center
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around people in recovery telling their stories of how substance abuse impacted their lives, and the positive benefits of becoming clean. Dr. Archambeau has been in recovery for 23 years.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re trying to make those connections and changes.”
Here’s a look at some of the study’s key findings:
- Marijuana: The most widely used illegal drug among teens, about 9 percent of eighth-graders reported using marijuana in the last 12 months, compared to one in four 10th-graders and 36 percent of high-school seniors.
- Cigarettes: The number of young adults who smoke cigarettes is on a precipitous decline, down by more than 75 percent since 1997. From 2015 to 2016, the percentage of youth who smoked in the past 30 days fell to 11 percent among 12th-grade students, to 5 percent among 10th-grade students and to 3 percent among eighth-grade students.
- Vaping: After quickly become one of the most common forms of adolescent substance use, vaping declined for the first time in 2016. From 2015 to 2016, the percentage of young adults who vaped in the last 30 days declined from 16 percent to 13 percent among 12th-grade students, from 14 percent to 11 percent among 10th-grade students and from 8 percent to 6 percent among eighth-grade students.
- Synthetic marijuana: Also known as “K-2” or “Spice,” synthetic marijuana continued its rapid decline in use among teens since its use was first measured in 2011. Among 12th-graders, for example, annual use has fallen by more than two-thirds, from 11 percent in 2011 to 4 percent in 2016.
- Alcohol: Although more widely used than marijuana, alcohol use continued a long slide downward. Thirty-three percent of high school seniors reported consuming alcohol within the last 30 days, down from a high of 54 percent in 1991. About 20 percent of 10th-graders reported alcohol use in the past month, down from 43 percent in 1991. About 7 percent of eighth-graders reported drinking over that span, a decrease from 25 percent in 1991.