More than half of California’s high school juniors have experimented with drugs and 85% have tried alcohol, with the highest use among white students and in rural areas, according to a statewide survey released Tuesday.
The survey, called the first of its kind in California, found that a major surge in drug use occurs between the seventh and ninth grades. By the 11th grade, the study discovered, more students are smoking marijuana than tobacco cigarettes.
“It is a sad and sobering reality that trying drugs is no longer the exception among high school students,” said Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who commissioned the study. “It is the norm.”
Surprisingly, Van de Kamp told a press conference, the survey found proportionately higher drug and alcohol use among junior high and high school students in rural areas of California than in Los Angeles and other cities. Contradicting a prevalent stereotype, the study also showed that white students were more likely to use alcohol and marijuana than any other racial or ethnic group. Students of Asian descent were least likely to try drugs and alcohol.
The statewide statistics reflected a 1984 survey conducted in Orange County, where about half of the junior and senior high school students questioned said they had been “high” on some type of drugs at least once.
The UCLA survey of 6,682 Orange County students found that 13.5% of the students had been daily users of some drug or alcohol by the 11th grade. Another 67% said they had been drunk at least once before reaching the 11th grade. The survey also showed that junior high is where most first-time alcohol or drug use occurs.
The more recent statewide survey of 7,379 students in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades was conducted by Rodney Skager, associate dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education, last winter.
According to the survey, 10.7% of the seventh-graders reported using illegal drugs at least once. Nearly 58% said they had tried alcohol but only 15.8% said they had actually gotten drunk.
Among the ninth-graders, 35.7% said they had tried drugs, while 77.6% said they had tried alcohol and 47.1% said they had become intoxicated.
Of the 11th-graders surveyed, 51.4% reported trying drugs, 85% said they had tried alcohol at least once and 65.2% said they had gotten drunk. One in every 13 students in this age group reported smoking marijuana every day.
Marijuana was by far the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine, amphetamines and inhalants such as glue. Among seventh-graders, however, inhalants were the most commonly used drug.
One positive finding of the survey, Van de Kamp said, was that 70% of the 11th-graders said they had never smoked tobacco. The attorney general attributed this to anti-smoking programs in the schools and said similar educational programs could be effective in reducing drug and alcohol use.