Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Use of illegal drugs among adolescents and teens in the United States declined this year, according to data from the Monitoring the Future survey released Wednesday.
Up to 60% fewer eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders surveyed nationally reported using alcohol, e-cigarettes, marijuana or other drugs in 2021 than in 2020, the data showed.
The decline in drug use represents the largest one-year decrease in overall illicit drug use reported since the survey began in 1975, the researchers said.
"We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period," National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a press release.
"These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents," she said.
Earlier findings from a different National Institute on Drug Abuse-supported survey showed that the overall rate of drug use among adolescents ages 10 to 14 remained stable before and during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, researchers detected shifts in the drugs used, with alcohol use declining and use of nicotine products and misuse of prescription medications increasing.
In addition, substance use increased among adolescents who experienced pandemic-related stress, depression or anxiety.
The Monitoring the Future survey is an ongoing assessment of alcohol, drug and tobacco use among eight-, 10th- and 12th-graders across the country.
It is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The survey is administered annually to students who self-report their substance use behaviors over various time periods, such as the past 30 days, the past 12 months and during their lifetimes.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in school closures in many regions of the United States, disrupting academic, athletic and social activities, a known risk factor for drug use.
As a result, this year's survey also included questions on mental health, the researchers said.
In addition, the survey documents students' perception of harm, disapproval of use and availability of drugs.
From February to June, the Monitoring the Future investigators collected 32,260 surveys from students enrolled in 319 public and private schools across the United States.
Students across all age-groups reported moderate increases in feelings of boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness, worry, difficulty sleeping and other negative mental health indicators since the start of the pandemic.
However, despite these trends, the 2021 survey reported significant decreases in the use of many substances, including those most commonly used by adolescents and teens such as alcohol, marijuana and vaped nicotine, the researchers said.
This year, of the respondents, 11% identified as African American, 17% as Hispanic, 5% as Asian American, 1% as American Indian or Alaska Native, 14% as multiple ethnicities and 51% as White.
Among respondents, 40% took the survey in-person in school while 60% answered the questions from home while they underwent virtual schooling due to the pandemic.
Of those eighth grade, 17% reported using alcohol in the past year, down slightly from 21% in 2020.
However, among 10th-graders, 29% reported using alcohol in the past year, a drop from 41% in 2020, while 47% of 12th-graders surveyed reported using alcohol, down from 55% in 2020.
Meanwhile, 7% of eighth-graders reported using marijuana in the past year, compared to 11% in 2020, while these figures were 17% and 28% from 10th-graders and 31% and 35% for 12th-graders.
Among eighth-graders, 12% reported vaping nicotine in the past year, down from 17% in 2020.
For 10th-graders, past-year vaping also declined to 20% from 31% over the same period, and it also fell to 27% from 35% among 12th-graders.
Five percent of eighth- and 10th-graders reported using any illegal drug other than marijuana -- such as cocaine, hallucinogens and non-medical use of prescription painkillers -- in the past year, compared to 8% to 9% in these age groups in 2020.
Similarly, 7% of 12th-graders reported using any illegal drug other than marijuana in the past year, down from 11% in 2020, according to the researchers.
"Moving forward, it will be crucial to identify the pivotal elements of this past year that contributed to decreased drug use ... and harness them to inform future prevention efforts," Volkow said.
These include "drug availability, family involvement, differences in peer pressure or other factors," she said.