Teen Drug Abuse

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideTeen Drug Abuse: Warning Signs, Statistics, and Facts

Teen Drug Abuse: Warning Signs, Statistics, and Facts

What are some adolescent drug use statistics?


  • Tobacco Smoking among teens in grades 8, 10 and 12 continued to decline in 2014 - a positive trend since most smokers begin their habit in adolescence—according to the latest survey results from the nationwide Monitoring the Future study.
  • Based on annual surveys of 40,000 to 50,000 students in about 400 secondary schools, the researchers found that the percentage of students saying that they smoked at all in the prior 30 days fell for the three grades combined.


  • The use of alcohol by teens has dropped dramatically over roughly the past two decades—particularly among the youngest teens—and continues to drop in 2014. The 30-day prevalence of alcohol use declined significantly in all three grades in 2014.
  • The 12th-grade decline is statistically significant as is the decline for the three grades combined.
  • All three grades are now at the lowest point that they have been at least since the mid-1990s, and likely longer. Among 8th graders, most of whom are 13 or 14 years old, the proportion who have ever taken "more than just a few sips" of alcohol by 8th grade has fallen by half since the 1990s.
  • Prevalence of recent binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks) dropped significantly in 2014 to under 20 percent of high school seniors. As with 30-day prevalence, all grades are at their lowest points since at least the mid-1990s.
  • The two-week prevalence rates for binge drinking are now at 12 percent in the three grades combined - down from a peak level of 22 percent.
  • Disapproval of binge drinking continues a gradual increase in the upper grades. Perceived availability for alcohol continues longer-term declines, which are sharpest in the lower grades.

Illicit Drugs

  • The index of any illicit drug use tends to be driven by marijuana, which is by far the most prevalent of the many illicitly used drugs.
  • In 2014, the proportions of students indicating any use of an illicit drug in the prior 12 months declined slightly in the 12th grade, but remained unchanged from the prior year in the eighth and tenth grades.
  • The percentages indicating any use in their lifetime are 20.3 percent, 37.4 percent and 49.1 percent. In other words, half of America's high school seniors have tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate and four in 10 have used it in just the past year.
  • "But it should also be noted that fully half of today's seniors have not tried an illicit drug by the end of high school," said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study.


  • In general, the use of marijuana among teens has been drifting higher in recent years following a decade or more of fairly steady decline.
  • In 2014, use among the three grades declined slightly.
  • Annual prevalence (the percent using once or more in the prior 12 months) declined from 12.7 percent to 11.7 percent among 8th graders 29.8 percent to 27.3 percent among 10th graders and from 36.4 percent to 35.1 percent among 12th graders.
  • "The belief that regular marijuana use harms the user, however, continues to fall among youth, so changes in this belief do not seem to explain the change in use this year, as it has done over most of the life of the study," Johnston said.
  • From 2013 to 2014, the percent of students seeing great risk from being a regular marijuana user has fallen among 8th graders from 61 percent to 58.9 percent, among 10th graders from 46.5 percent to 45.4 percent, and among 12th graders from 39.5 percent to 36.1 percent.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2015

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