U.S. Teens Use Illicit Drugs More Than European Peers

Jim Liebelt

*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.

Emerging research finds that American youths in 10th grade have a high illicit drug use compared to their European counterparts. The American adolescents, however, have among the lowest rates of drinking and smoking.

The findings come from a 2015 survey of 15- and 16-year-olds in 35 European countries. The results provide perspective on the substance-using habits of American adolescents.

The results of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), show country-by-country results for the use of various licit and illicit drugs. In all but a few of the 35 countries included, the findings are based on national samples of the same age group.

In the U.S., data from the Monitoring the Future study’s national survey of 10th-graders — upon which much of the design of the European study is based — provide results for comparison.

This survey is conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Among the key findings for illicit drug use are the following:

  • Europe has shown recent trends in the use of several important substances similar to those seen in the U.S., including a rise in marijuana use and declines in the use of cigarettes and alcohol by teens;
  • On average, only 18 percent of the European students had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, compared to 35 percent of U.S. students the same age. Only the Czech Republic ranked higher than the U.S. at 37 percent;
  • The U.S. was tied with France for second highest in lifetime cannabis use at 31 percent. In the European countries, the average was about half of that (16 percent), and the highest rate again was in the Czech Republic at 37 percent. There were large variations in the rates for individual countries, ranging down to four percent in Moldova;
  • Cannabis use in the prior 30 days was highest in the U.S. (15 percent) and France (17 percent) — more than twice the average across all 35 European countries of seven percent;
  • Lifetime use of amphetamines was by far the highest among the U.S. teens at 10 percent. The average for the 35 ESPAD countries was only two percent;
  • The U.S., Ireland and Georgia had the highest rates of ecstasy use (which has been in decline in the U.S.) at four percent lifetime prevalence;
  • The U.S. and Poland had the highest rates of lifetime hallucinogen use at five percent, compared to an average of two percent across the European countries;
  • Lifetime cocaine use by U.S. teens was above average at three percent versus two percent on average in Europe, but there were somewhat higher rates in Bulgaria (five percent), France (four percent), and Poland (four percent);
  • Lifetime heroin use in the U.S. sample was at the average for the European countries at one percent lifetime prevalence, but several countries had higher rates of two percent to three percent.

Researchers said that while U.S. teens stand out for having high levels of use of controlled substances, their use of cigarettes and alcohol is equally noteworthy for being low in comparison to most of the countries of Europe.

Source: PsychCentral