Teenagers in the U.S. are drinking and smoking less and doing fewer drugs than their predecessors in more than 40 years of tracking, USA Today reports . Even use of marijuana is down among 8th- and 10th-graders, though it’s flat among high school seniors, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey of American teens. “The question is: Why is all this happening?” asked Lloyd Johnston, who has led the survey since it started in 1975. He and other experts believe that a decline in smoking may be largely responsible for the broader decline. For young teens, smoking is a gateway to other illicit activities. By cutting smoking rates, fewer adolescents are moving on to alcohol and drugs, said Johnston, of University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. In 1991, nearly 11 percent of high school seniors smoked a half pack of cigarettes or more a day. This year, only 1.8 percent said they smoke that much. Alcohol use is at its lowest level ever: 37.3 percent of 12th-graders said they have been drunk at least once, down from a high of 53.2 percent in 2001.
“That is gigantic good fortune, and really I don’t think we as a field or society more generally have spent as much time as we should have celebrating and reflecting on why today’s kids are so great in this regard,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, suggested that social media and video games might have helped, keeping kids busy at home and away from peer pressure to drink or use drugs. The percentage of 8th-graders who reported using marijuana in the past month fell from 6.5 percent in 2015 to 5.4 percent this year. Among high school seniors, 22.5 percent used the drug within the past month and 6 percent used it daily, essentially unchanged from last year.