Tri-Ethnic Center

College of Natural Sciences

Comparing Rates of Substance Use Among AI Students to National Rates: 2009-2012

A comparison of American Indian (AI) youth substance use data to national rates from Monitoring the Future (MTF) for the years 2009-2012 shows that adolescent substance use is still a major problem among reservation-based AI students.  This is especially true for 8th graders where lifetime, annual, and last month prevalence rates were significantly higher than national rates for nearly all substances. In many cases, the differences were quite dramatic.  For example, AI 8th grade lifetime marijuana use was 56.2% compared to the national rate of 16.4%, while AI 8th graders ever getting drunk was 36.7% compared to 14.8% nationally.  Binge drinking by AI 8th graders was reported at 18.3% while the national rate was 7.1%.   

Lifetime Prevalence (Table 1)

For 8th and 10th graders, lifetime prevalence rates for all substances except tranquilizers and amphetamines were significantly higher for AI youth compared to MTF youth, with many AI rates at least twice as high. For example, 36.7% of AI 8th graders reported ever getting drunk compared to a national rate of 14.8% while 56.2% of AI 8th graders and 61.4% of AI 10th graders reported ever using marijuana, compared to national rates of 16.4% and 33.4%, respectively.

Annual Prevalence (Table 2)

In comparing national and AI rates, the results were similar to those of lifetime prevalence, with AI youth using at greater rates than national rates. For 8th and 10th graders, use was significantly greater for AI youth for all substances except tranquilizers and amphetamines. For 12th graders, there were fewer significant differences. Marijuana again showed the most striking differences in rates, with 35.7% of AI 12th graders reporting using in the past year while nationally, the rate was 27.6%.

Last month (Table 3)

Comparing 8th grade national and AI rates shows that last month use was significantly higher for AI youth except for tranquilizers and amphetamines. Last month marijuana use for AI 8th graders (34.7%) was almost 5 times that of non-AI youth (7.2%) while AI rates for gotten drunk and binge drinking were also much higher (18.5% and 18.3%, respectively) than national rates (4.9% and 7.1%, respectively). For 10th graders, AI rates for alcohol use and gotten drunk were not significantly different from the national rates.

The pattern of results changes considerably for 12th graders. Last month national 12th grade rates of alcohol use, drunkenness, and binge drinking (41.4%, 26.4%, 23.3%, respectively) were all significantly greater than the rates for AI 12th graders (26.6%, 17.6%, 15.6%, respectively). Last month marijuana use was still higher for AI youth (35.0%) compared to national rates (21.5%). As we have reported in previous papers, (Swaim, Beauvais, Chavez, & Oetting, 1997. with American Indian dropouts not accounted for in school-based surveys, estimates for the entire population, when comparing various racial/ethnic groups can be misleading. Because the school dropout rate is considerably higher for AI youth, and school dropouts tend to use substances at higher rates, differences between AI and national rates for 12th grade students are much less dramatic than for earlier grades, before school dropout has taken place.



Stanley L.R., Harness, S., Swaim, R.C., & Beauvais F. (2013, in press).   Trends in substance use among American Indian youth living on or near reservations; Update, 2009-2012. Public Health Reports.