1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Preliminary Results

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10. PERCEIVED RISK OF HARM AND OTHER MEASURES

In addition to the behavioral information on substance use, the NHSDA collects data on respondents’ perceptions of the risk of harm of using drugs and the availability of drugs. For this report, perceived risk of harm is presented as the percent reporting that they perceive great risk of harm in using the drug at a specified level of frequency. Perceived availability is measured as the percent reporting that obtaining the drug is either very easy or fairly easy. Another measure included in the NHSDA related to availability of drugs is the percent of respondents reporting that they had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month. All of these measures are important correlates of drug use that help explain the patterns and trends in substance use, particularly among youth.

The percent of the population reporting great risk of harm in using marijuana once a month increased from 40 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 1996. However, the percent reporting great risk in using marijuana more frequently (once or twice a week) did not change.

Among youths age 12-17 years, there was no change in perceived risk of marijuana use between 1994 and 1996. Among youths, the perceived risk of harm increased from 1985 to 1990, then decreased from 1990 to 1994. This trend in perceived risk mirrors the trend in the use of marijuana among youths. As the perceived risk increased, use decreased, and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the perceived risk began to decline two years before use began to increase (Figure 16).

Undisplayed Graphic
Among youths age 12-17 years, there was a significant decrease in the perceived risk of occasional (once a month) use of cocaine from 1994 to 1996. Since 1990, the percent of youths reporting great risk in using cocaine once a month decreased from 72 percent to 54 percent. This measure of perceived risk had previously increased significanty from 58 percent in 1985 to 70 percent in 1988.

Among youths age 12-17 years, the percent reporting great risk in smoking one or more packsof cigarettes per day has steadily increased from 45 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 1996.

A significant shift in perceived risk of alcohol use occurred between 1993 and 1996. In 1993, 70 percent of the population age 12 and older perceived great risk in having four or five drinks nearly every day, and 60 percent reported great risk in having five or more drinks once or twice a week. By 1996, daily use of alcohol (four or five drinks) was associated with great risk by 77 percent of the population, an increase in perceived risk. However, the perceived risk of having five or more drinks once or twice a week decreased to 53 percent. This diverging trend was evident not only for the total population, but for youths age 12-17 years as well. Among youths, the percent reporting great risk in having five or more drinks once or twice a week decreased from 58 percent in 1992 to 45 percent in 1996, while during that same period the percent reporting great risk in having four or five drinks nearly every day increased from 61 percent to 67 percent.

More than half (58 percent) of youths age 12-17 reported that marijuana was easy to obtain in 1996. This is up slightly from 1992, when 51 percent reported that marijuana was easy to obtain.

The percent of youths reporting that heroin was easy to obtain was 23 percent in 1996, slightly lower than in 1994 (25 percent). In the total population age 12 and older, the percent reporting that heroin was easy to obtain increased from 26 percent in 1993 to 32 percent in 1996.

The percent of the population reporting that they had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month decreased from 9.2 percent in 1992 to 6.6 percent in 1996. However, among youths age 12-17 years, the percent was 14.9 percent in 1996, similar to the percentage in 1992 (13.4 percent).

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This page was last updated on February 05, 2009.