WASHINGTON – Maryland teens drank less alcohol in 1998 than their 1988 peers did, but they smoked more, according to a survey prepared for the state Department of Education.
The report, presented Wednesday to the Maryland Board of Education, said cigarette and marijuana use was up during the decade in all grade levels surveyed: sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades.
Cigarette use by high school seniors rose from 24.1 percent of students in 1988 to 28.6 percent in 1998. Marijuana use by seniors rose from 15.1 percent to 24.2 percent in the same period.
But while the smoking numbers were rising, the use of alcohol fell across the board and fell sharply among older students.
The survey said that 48.4 percent of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol in the month before the 1998 survey, down from 60.2 percent who reported drinking in the 1988 survey.
State school board members said the results, while mixed, are an important measure of the success of their efforts to fight drug and alcohol abuse.
“I think it’s important to know how we’re doing and to stress the importance of staying away from these addictive drugs,” said board member JoAnn Bell.
Board member John Wisthoff said the survey can also serve as a roadmap, giving educators “an idea of where their instructional abuse programs should go.”
The survey of 22,140 students across the state has been taken every two years since 1988 by the Maryland Department of Education.
The latest findings appear to conflict with some recent surveys of drug and alcohol abuse by college students in the state, which were performed by the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research.
An official from CESAR would not comment on the state school board’s survey because he had not seen it. But while the school board survey showed 48.4 percent of high school seniors using alcohol in 1998, a CESAR survey of University of Maryland college students that year found that 72 percent of them drank alcohol in the month before the survey.
CESAR also found that 18.5 percent of college students reported smoking marijuana in the month before the survey and, of those, 62.5 percent said they had tried marijuana by the time they were 18. The state survey, by contrast, said 24.2 percent of high school seniors smoked marijuana in the month before the 1998 survey and that 45.2 percent of all 12th graders reported ever using marijuana.
“The majority of marijuana users used marijuana before they got to college,” said Eric Wish, director of CESAR.
The reports did agree in some areas. CESAR said “alcohol continues to be the most widely used drug among students,” and the state survey showed that alcohol was also the most popular drug for high school students, outstripping even cigarettes.
The state survey looked at students’ use of a range of drugs, from cigarettes to LSD and crack cocaine. Among the findings:
— High school seniors’ use of “any drug but alcohol and tobacco” rose from 22.8 percent in 1988 to 28.1 percent in 1998.
— Use of harder drugs, such as LSD, crack and heroin, remained relatively stable and were used by a relatively small percentage of high school seniors. LSD was the most popular, with 4.8 percent of seniors in 1998 reporting they had used it in the 30 days before the survey.
— Reported LSD use by eighth graders rose from 1.8 percent in 1988 to 2.6 percent in 1998.