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Teen Substance Abuse in the US

Updated on November 23, 2015

Kids Living The High Life

As of 2011, 15.2% of high school aged students admitted to abusing prescription drugs in the past year. The drugs these teens admitted to using the most were the painkiller Vicodin and Adderall, a stimulant usually prescribed to sufferers of ADHD.

And since 2011, reports of the usage of prescription drugs and other forms of substance abuse by teens has remained steadily on the rise.

From the early 1990s to present day, the number of American students using various kinds of inhalants, hallucinogens, methamphetamines, and stimulants like cocaine have decreased dramatically. The number of students using heroin has remained low, at less than 2%, since the 1990s. However, new substances and habits are becoming increasingly popular ways for kids to 'get high.'

Ecstasy Pills are often appealing to the eye and made to look like candy to be more visually appealing to impressionable young users.
Ecstasy Pills are often appealing to the eye and made to look like candy to be more visually appealing to impressionable young users. | Source

Ecstasy Use on the Rise

Despite the seemingly declining number of teens participating in drug use, the number of student-aged youth using ecstasy, also known as XTC, X, and many other code names. Ecstasy is an MDMA-based stimulant which causes heightened sensitivity to light, sound and texture, as well as minor hallucinations, has risen since the early 2000s. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this rise in ecstasy use can be attributed to the fact that more and more students feel that the drug is not as harmful as many others. From 2005 to 2011, the percentage of 12th graders who said that trying ecstasy once or twice would be risky dropped from 60.1 percent to 49.0 percent. This change directly reflects the increased use in the drug, which is not a medical drug, but one which is generally made by

Many young people today participate in smoking marijuana for a variety of reasons, including peer pressure, positive portrayal by the media, or any number of influences.
Many young people today participate in smoking marijuana for a variety of reasons, including peer pressure, positive portrayal by the media, or any number of influences. | Source

Marijuana Usage

The number of students who admitted to using marijuana has remained between 30-40% in the last decade. As the debate rages on as to whether marijuana can and should be used medically, and support for the cause has increased nationally, studies have shown that the American teens perception of the risks of marijuana use has decreased in recent years.

However, while the harmful effects of marijuana are still being debated and analyzed, the risks of using the synthetic versions of marijuana are widely known to be true. Commonly referred to as spice or K2, synthetic marijuana is made from herbal mixtures and various chemicals, which differs batch to batch depending on the preference of the drugs creators.

Many of the chemicals used supposedly induce feelings similar to that of THC, the active component in natural marijuana, but this is not always the case. As many different variations of this drug can be made from a number of components, it is difficult to regulate, and therefore some versions are actually available to purchase legally. This does not, in fact, mean that the substance is safe for consumption; rather, the legality of the materials only means that the government has not been able to incontrovertibly provide proof of the risks of some of the combinations of chemicals and herbs. As some versions are still considered legal, as of the 2011 study, as many as 11.4% of 12th graders reported using synthetic marijuana in the past year alone.



As of the 2013 study, it appears that the number of teens using cigarettes and other tobacco products has decreased greatly, and more teens have actually admitted to smoking marijuana than smoking cigarettes. However, some 'trendier' forms of smoking tobacco have risen in popularity in recent years. A fairly large number of high-school aged students under the age of 18 (21.4 %) have said that they have smoked from a hookah, or do so on a semi-regular basis. As of the 2014 statistic, a surprising 20.4.% of teens under 18 had smoked a cigar.

However, the number of teens who smoke cigarettes has decreased exponentially in recent years. 2013 held the lowest percentage of teens who smoke in the history of the survey, at only 16.3%, a record low.

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Facts and Stats About Teen Drug Use

1. More teens die from prescription drugs than heroin/cocaine combined.

2. In 2013, more high school seniors regularly used marijuana than cigarettes as 22.7% smoked pot in the last month, compared to 16.3% who smoked cigarettes.

3. 60% of seniors don't see regular marijana use as harmful, but THC (the active ingredient in the drug that causes addiction) is nearly 5 times stronger than it was 20 years ago.

4. 1/3 of teenagers who live in states with medical marijuana laws get their pot from other people's prescriptions.

5. The United States represents 5% of the world's population and 75% of prescription drugs taken. 60% of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them free from friends and relatives.

6. Adderall use (often prescribed to treat ADHD) has increased among high school seniors from 5.4% in 2009 to 7.5% this year.

7. 54% of high school seniors do not think regular steroid use is harmful, the lowest number since 1980, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse started asking about perception on steroids.

8. By the 8th grade, 28% of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 15% have smoked cigarettes, and 16.5% have used marijuana.

9. Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don't.

10. 6.5% of high school seniors smoke pot daily, up from 5.1% five years ago. Meanwhile, less than 20% of 12th graders think occasional use is harmful, while less than 40% see regular use as harmful (lowest numbers since 1983).

11. About 50% of high school seniors do not think it's harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice and 40% believe it's not harmful to use heroin once or twice.


Resources and Additional Reading

The information contained in this article was obtained via a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since 1975, the MTF survey has measured drug, alcohol, and cigarette use and related attitudes among 12th graders, nationwide. In 1991, 8th and 10th graders were added to the survey. Survey participants report their drug use behaviors across three time periods: lifetime, past year, and past month. Overall, 46,733 students from 400 public and private schools in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades participated in the 2011 survey. To learn more, please contact, or visit

Sometimes, substance abuse is really just a desperate cry for the help that they truly need.
Sometimes, substance abuse is really just a desperate cry for the help that they truly need. | Source

Teen Prescription Drug Use

For more information, check out this report on the increasing use of prescription drugs by teens in the US today.


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