Participation in high-risk or illicit behaviors can have immediate and long-term negative effects on the overall development and well-being of youth, their families, and our society. These behaviors include using illicit drugs, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, engaging in sexual activity, and participating in violent crimes.
Illicit drug use is a risk-taking behavior that has potentially serious negative consequences. Commonly abused drugs include "street" drugs such as marijuana and cocaine as well as the non-medical use of prescription drugs such as pain relievers and stimulants. Recent illicit drug use among youth remained unchanged from 2010 to 2011. In 2011, 9 percent of 8th-graders, 19 percent of 10th-graders, and 25 percent of 12th-graders reported current illicit drug use, that is, use in the past 30 days (Figure 10). Among high school seniors, current non-medical use of prescription pain relievers has remained steady for the past 5 years, with 3.6 percent of high school seniors reporting use in 2011.23
NOTE: Use of "any illicit drug" includes any use of marijuana, LSD, other hallucinogens, crack, other cocaine, or heroin, or any use of other narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, or tranquilizers not under a doctor's orders. For 8th and 10th-graders, the use of other narcotics and barbiturates has been excluded because these younger respondents appear to overreport use (perhaps because they include the use of nonprescription drugs in their responses). Data for 10th-graders for 2008 are not included because estimates are considered to be unreliable due to sampling error. See http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/09data.html#2009data-drugs.
SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future Survey.
Smoking has serious long-term consequences, including the risk of smoking-related diseases and premature death. Each day in the United States, approximately 3,276 young people between the ages of 12–17 smoke their first cigarette, and an estimated 775 youth become daily cigarette smokers.24 Nevertheless, the percentages of adolescents who smoke regularly have reached their lowest levels since monitoring began. In 2011, about 2 percent of 8th-graders reported smoking cigarettes daily, a decline from the peak in 1996, when over 10 percent of 8th-graders reported daily cigarette smoking. Similarly, declines in daily smoking were reported for 10th-graders—6 percent in 2011, down from a peak of 18 percent in 1996; and for 12th-graders—10 percent, down from a peak of 25 percent in 1997.
Alcohol use by adolescents can also have severe consequences; it is associated with problems in school, fighting, crime, motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and deaths.25 Early onset of heavy drinking, defined here as 5 or more alcoholic beverages in a row or during a single occasion in the previous 2 weeks, may be especially problematic, potentially increasing the likelihood of these negative outcomes. Between 2006 and 2011, heavy drinking declined from 9 percent to 6 percent among 8th-graders, from 20 percent to 15 percent among 10th-graders, and from 25 percent to 22 percent among 12th-graders.
Early sexual activity is associated with emotional26 and physical health risks. Youth who engage in sexual activity are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and becoming pregnant. In 2009, 46 percent of high school students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, a decline from 54 percent in 1991, the first year of the survey. Also, in 2009, among those who had sexual intercourse during the past 3 months, 61 percent reported use of a condom during the last sexual intercourse, and 20 percent reported the use of birth control pills to prevent pregnancy before the last sexual intercourse.
One measure of youth violence in society is the rate of serious violent crimes committed by youth perpetrators. In 2010, the serious violent crime offending rate was 9 crimes per 1,000 juveniles ages 12–17, totaling 231,000 such crimes involving juveniles (Figure 11). The percentage of all serious violent crimes which involved youth offenders has ranged from 16 percent in 2002 to 26 percent in 1993, the peak year for youth violence. In 2010, 18 percent of all such victimizations reportedly involved a juvenile offender.
NOTE: The offending rate is the ratio of the number of crimes (aggravated assault, rape, and robbery, i.e., stealing by force or threat of violence) reported to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) that involved at least one offender perceived by the victim to be 12–17 years of age, plus the number of homicides reported to the police that involved at least one juvenile offender, to the number of juveniles in the population. Homicide data were not available for 2010 at the time of publication. The number of homicides for 2009 is included in the overall total for 2010. In 2009, homicides represented about 1 percent of serious violent crime, and the total number of homicides by juveniles has been relatively stable over the last decade. Because of changes made in the victimization survey, data prior to 1992 are adjusted to make them comparable with data collected under the redesigned methodology. Due to further methodological changes in the 2006 NCVS, use caution when comparing 2006 criminal perpetration estimates to those for other years. See Criminal Victimization, 2007, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=764, for more information. Estimates may vary from previous publications due to updating of more recent homicide numbers.
SOURCE: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey and Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Supplementary Homicide Reports.
23 Johnston, L.D., O'Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., and Schulenberg, J.E. (2012). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2011. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, pp. 78.
24 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.
25 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004/2005). Alcohol and development in youth—A multidisciplinary overview. Alcohol Research & Health, 28 (3),107–176. Retrieved from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh283/toc28-3.htm.
26 Meier, A.M. (2007). Adolescent first sex and subsequent mental health. American Journal of Sociology 112 (6), 1811–1847.