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1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse

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9. PERCEIVED RISK OF HARM AND OTHER MEASURES

In addition to the information on substance use, respondents also provide their 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 remained about the same between 1997 (43.4 percent) and 1998 (41.8 percent). The percent reporting great risk in using marijuana once or twice a week also did not change (59 percent in 1997 and 58 percent in 1998).

Among youth age 12-17 years, the perceived risk of smoking marijuana once or twice a week remained about the same between 1997 and 1998. This follows a decline in perceived risk of marijuana use (including "once a month" use) that occurred from 1990 to 1997. This trend in perceived risk mirrors the trend in the use of marijuana among youth. As the perceived risk decreased, use increased, and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the perceived risk began to decline about two years before use began to increase (Figure 16).


There was a rate decrease for those age 12 and older in the perceived risk of occasional (once a month) use of cocaine from 1997 to 1998 (77.9 percent to 76.4 percent respectively). From 1990 to 1996, the percent of youth reporting great risk in using cocaine once a month decreased from 72 percent to 54 percent, and remained unchanged in 1997 and 1998. This measure of perceived risk had previously increased from 58 percent in 1985 to 70 percent in 1988, a period in which the rate of cocaine use decreased.

Among youth age 12-17 years, the percent reporting great risk in smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day has steadily increased from 45 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 1996 and remained unchanged in 1997 and 1998.

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. In 1998, daily use of alcohol (four or five drinks) was associated with great risk by 76 percent of the population, an increase in perceived risk from 1993. However, the perceived risk of having five or more drinks once or twice a week decreased over the same period from 60 percent in 1993 to 54 percent in 1998. This diverging trend from 1993 to 1998 was evident not only for the total population, but for youth age 12-17 years, as well. The rates for all persons 12 and older and for youths were stable between 1997 and 1998.

More than half (56 percent) of youths age 12-17 reported that marijuana was easy to obtain in 1998. This is an increase from 1992, when 51 percent reported that marijuana was easy to obtain.

The percent of youths reporting that heroin was easy to obtain was 21.2 percent in 1998, similar to 1997. Perceived availability of marijuana, cocaine, and crack also did not change among youths.

In the total population age 12 and older, the percent reporting that heroin, cocaine, and crack were easy to obtain declined from 1996 to 1998. The percentage reporting that marijuana was easy to obtain did not change during this period.

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 6.1 percent in 1998. However, among youths age 12-17 years, the percent was 13.7 percent in 1998, similar to the percentage in 1992 (13.4 percent).

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This page was last updated on June 01, 2008.