Are national stereotypes in alcohol consumption such as 'British' and 'Mediterranean' justifiable? Can academic historians add another dimension to the prevention and legislative debates?

This new report found significant rises in alcohol and other substance use by teenagers, thus reversing a decade of steady overall decline. They also report that many parents are unable or unwilling to deal with the problem.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America and MetLife Foundation finds the number of teens in grades 9-12 that used alcohol in the past month has grown by 11 percent, (from 35 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2009), past year Ecstasy use shows a 67 percent increase (from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2009) and past year marijuana use shows a 19 percent increase (from 32 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2009).

The study also highlights negative shifts in teen attitudes, particularly a growing belief in the benefits and acceptability of drinking and other drug use. The percentage of teens agreeing that 'being high feels good' increased significantly from 45 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009, while those saying that "friends usually get high at parties" increased from 69 percent to 75 percent over the same time period. Furthermore, there was a significant drop in the number of teens agreeing strongly that they "don't want to hang around drug users" – from 35 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2009.

Uses of ecstasy on a monthly, annual or ever use basis remain significant, despite the drug's lower media profile in recent years. This might suggest that media coverage is misleading. Patterns of drug use can shift rapidly and dramatically according to trends and particularly when young people move from one educational stage to another.

The authors comment that, "The resurgence in teen drug and alcohol use comes at a time when pro-drug cues in popular culture – in film, television and online – abound, and when funding for federal prevention programs has been declining for several years."

Concerns are raised about teens being as likely to obtain information about drugs from attractive internet sites like youtube as from more controlled sources such as schools and government campaigns.

Parents were also surveyed and 20 percent say their child (ages 10-19) has already used drugs or alcohol beyond an 'experimental' level. Among parents of teens ages 14-19, that percentage jumps to 31 percent, nearly one third.

Disturbingly, among those parents of teens who have used, nearly half (47 percent) either waited to take action or took no action at all – which studies show put those children at greater risk of continued use and negative consequences.

"We're very troubled by this upswing that has implications not just for parents, who are the main focus of the Partnership's efforts, but for the country as a whole," said Partnership Chairman Patricia Russo. "The United States simply can't afford to let millions of kids struggle through their academic and professional lives hindered by substance abuse. Parents and caregivers need to play a more active role in protecting their families, trust their instincts and take immediate action as soon as they sense a problem."

Teen abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines has remained stable with about 1 in 5 teens in grades 9-12 reporting abuse of a prescription medicine at least once in their lives, and 1 in 7 teens reporting abuse of a prescription pain reliever in the past year. Eight percent have reported cough medicine abuse in the past year. The percentage of teens believing that prescription drugs are easy to obtain from parental medicine cabinets has risen, however, from 56 to 63 per cent.

Teen smoking rates have remained stable with 25 percent of teens reporting smoking cigarettes in the past month. Teen inhalant use remains steady at 10 percent for past year use, yet only 66 percent of teens report that "sniffing or huffing things to get high can kill you," significantly less than the 70 percent of teens who agreed just last year. Steroid and heroin use among teens remains low at 5 percent for lifetime use.

The findings might appear to contradict other studies, but the PATS methodology has remained consistent for many years. Furthermore, our article on December's Monitoring the Future study showed some warning signs.

More Teens Using Alcohol, Ecstasy and Marijuana Makes Early Parental Action Even More Critical
Time to Talk - PDFA's step by step resources for parents
Trends of tobacco use by American teenagers - Previous coverage here featuring the NIH survey Monitoring The Future
Prevention-Smart Parents - Mentor's online resource for parents concerned about drug misuse