Statistics on Teen Drug and Alcohol Use

High school students often start to explore the world around them. Many start driving and may start working, all while attending classes and making social connections. During this time of exploration, many also start experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Here are a few statistics from the CDC that may be surprising:

  • Two-thirds of all high school seniors have tried alcohol.
  • 50% of high school students have tried marijuana.
  • Nearly 20% have used prescription pain medications without a prescription.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also completed studies on adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, revealing that:

  • 16% of high school students started drinking before age 13.
  • 30% drink on a monthly basis and 13% get drunk (four or more drinks within a couple of hours).
  • 6% drove after drinking, and 16% got in the car with a driver who had been drinking.

Alcohol use and abuse are particularly important subjects to address with teens since they can easily lead to risky behaviors. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen death in the United States and alcohol is involved in 28% of all traffic accidents, racking up a tremendous toll in human life each year.

Specific Risks of Substance Abuse for Students

Adolescents are often considered an at-risk population because experimentation can be seen as a rite of passage. New adults may offer alcohol to their younger siblings or friends, and parties may include alcohol or other drugs. Studies show that early alcohol or drug abuse can more easily lead to addiction and may make it more difficult to live sober later in life.

Teens may start using drugs or alcohol recreationally, but recreational use can rapidly transform into habitual use. A variety of mental and emotional conditions may play a role in developing an addiction, including examples like:

  • Depression
  • Relationship issues (trouble with family, friends, or romantic relationships, along with handling a parental divorce)
  • Health problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Grief or trauma
  • Feelings of isolation

Starting at a new school might trigger feelings of isolation and depression, and chronic pain can become a bridge to addiction. The earlier a student starts using illicit drugs or drinking regularly, the more likely they are to develop a tolerance, which can later lead to addiction.

For adolescents, and anyone facing addiction, the consequences can be devastating and life-long. Drug and alcohol use in teens can cause permanent changes to body chemistry and brain development, actually causing mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders. Other issues that may go hand-in-hand with teen drug use might include jail time and other risky behaviors that can result in STDs or unwanted pregnancy.

Programs and Resources for Teen Users and Parents

Prevention is often a good starting point for battling addiction, but even with regular prevention strategies, half of all adolescents will try an illicit drug or drink alcohol. Below are some resources to help parents know when there is a problem and find help for their teens.

  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. This organization offers parents a variety of resources, from help identifying a potential issue to finding local treatment programs, and arranging help.
  • Get Smart About Drugs. Created by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Get Smart About Drugs provides education about drug use in teens and the most common issues facing today’s parents. Parents can get tips for identifying paraphernalia and facts about drugs to help educate their children.
  • Growing Up Drug Free. This pamphlet produced jointly by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Education provides a wealth of information to parents of at-risk teens. It goes over strategies for discussing drugs and their effects, along with the next steps and treatment options for those who think their child might already have a substance abuse disorder.

Students may also recognize that they have a problem and look for help. Treatment programs can be difficult to obtain, and it is important to make resources readily available. Here are a few options developed specifically for teens in crisis.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA operates a national helpline that teens can call when feeling overwhelmed and in need of help. Helpline operators can provide treatment referral information in a confidential, judgment-free setting. The number is 1-800-662-HELP.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. Education is often the best and strongest tool in the box to prevent addiction and encourage young users to seek help. NIDA offers a range of educational materials that detail the physical and psychological effects of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. NIDA also offers a teen site with information and stories that more closely align with their daily challenges.
  • Above the Influence. Peer pressure can be a major factor in exploratory and recreational drug and alcohol abuse. Above the Influence provides a support network of teens determined not to fall into the trap of drugs and alcohol and to rise above peer pressure.