It's not the category that any state wants to lead the nation with, but Illinois' 8th graders and high school seniors are more likely to booze it up than anywhere else in the nation. And, nearly half of those kids are heading for a problem later in life.

The numbers come from Illinois Youth Survey 2014 State Report on Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use Among Illinois Youth. Every two years, they study teen drug and alcohol use by asking 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their attitudes toward drug and alcohol use, and what, if any, of those substances the kids have used themselves.

The study covers all sorts of substances, including prescription drugs, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. But for Illinois teens, it says, “alcohol is the drug of choice.”

Generally, underage drinking is down among Illinois teenagers who tend to perceive daily drinking and binge drinking as more risky than they did in the past. Older students also are less likely to report driving after they drank alcohol.

But some Illinois teenagers still are drinking at higher rates than their national counterparts. Those who drink tend to start young, which correlates to alcohol dependence as they get older. In 2014, nearly 40 percent of 12th graders said they starting drinking regularly before they turned 15, up nearly 13 percent from 2012.

Though alcohol is the top choice for teens, the study reports other popular options for Illinois 12th graders include cigarettes and marijuana. Smoking cigarettes is down across all grade levels, but smokeless tobacco use has stayed the same.

The other nugget of info that got my attention was when Illinois teens were asked about their parents attitudes on marijuana. The numbers of students of all ages who say they feel that their parents don't disapprove of marijuana smoking is going up. Older kids seem to think that weed smoking makes them "look cool," and the number of older teens in Illinois who think marijuana use is "wrong" or "very wrong" is going down.

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