Personal Disapproval of Drug Use Among 12th Graders in the US

"• The vast majority of 12th graders disapprove of regular use of any of the illicit drugs (see Table 8-6). Among 12th graders in 2017, 65% disapprove (including strongly disapprove) of regular marijuana use and between 92% and 96% disapprove of regular use of each of the other illicit drugs.

"• For each of the drugs included in this set of questions, fewer respondents indicate disapproval of experimental or occasional use than of regular use. However, the differences are not great for the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana, because nearly all 12th graders disapprove of even experimenting with them. For example, the proportions disapproving of experimental use are 94% for heroin; 88% for cocaine; 90% for crack; 86% for sedatives (barbiturates); 86% for cocaine powder; 78% for LSD; and 85% for ecstasy (MDMA). The extent of disapproval of illicit drug use by peers is no doubt underestimated by adolescents and, as we have written for some time, the extent of disapproval that actually does exist could be widely publicized and provide the basis for some potentially powerful prevention messages in the form of normative education.14

"• For marijuana, disapproval by 12th graders varies substantially for different usage levels, although not as much as it has in the past. Four out of ten of all seniors (39%) disapprove of even trying marijuana once or twice, about half (47%) disapprove of its occasional use, and two of three (65%) disapprove of regular use. Looked at another way, just over one third of 12th graders (35%) say they don’t disapprove of regular marijuana use.

"• Smoking a pack (or more) of cigarettes per day now meets with disapproval by nearly nine out of ten (87%) 12th grade students—a level comparable to the level of disapproval for many of the illicit drugs and actually higher than disapproval of regular marijuana use.

"• Having one or two drinks nearly every day meets with the disapproval of 71% of 12th graders. Curiously, almost the same percentage of 12th graders (73%) disapprove of weekend binge drinking (five or more drinks once or twice each weekend), despite the fact that twice as many of them see a great risk in weekend binge drinking (46%) than in having one or two drinks nearly every day (22%).

"One explanation for these seemingly anomalous findings may be that a greater proportion of this age group are themselves (and have friends who are) weekend binge drinkers rather than moderate daily drinkers. Therefore, some of their disapproval attitudes may be consistent with their own behavior, even though such attitudes are somewhat inconsistent with their beliefs about possible consequences. Perhaps the ubiquitous advertising of alcohol use in partying situations has also managed to increase social acceptability. In any case, this divergence between the perceived risk associated with the two behaviors and the corresponding levels of disapproval helps to illustrate the point that, while perceived risk may influence disapproval (as we have consistently hypothesized), other factors also play a role."


Miech, R. A., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2017: Volume I, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Available at