A survey by The Recovery Village examined substance abuse during people’s adolescent years. Learn more about teen drug use and why teens turn to substances.

A recent poll by The Recovery Village looked at drug and alcohol use in young adults and previous generations who used substances as adolescents. Using the responses from 400 participants, the results provide an inside look into teen drug use and weigh factors, such as the age they were when they first used a drug, the frequency of drug use and their reasons for using drugs.

Our Poll Results:

When Do Most Teens First Use Drugs & Alcohol?

The 400 total respondents were divided into two groups when they were asked if they used recreational drugs or alcohol at all during their adolescence and college years:

  • Group 1: 275 replied that they abused drugs or alcohol at least once during this time
  • Group 2: 125 replied that they never used drugs or alcohol recreationally during this time

In one question, participants who used substances as teens or young adults were asked to share the age they were when they first used drugs or alcohol.

More than half (51.64%) responded that they began using substances between the ages of 15 and 17. 122 respondents only used drugs or alcohol “a few times,” but 100 respondents used drugs or alcohol “frequently or weekly.”

Differences in Use by Gender

The Recovery Village survey also noted several gender differences in substance use:

  • Alcohol was the most frequently used substance among girls and boys, with 239 people reporting alcohol use
  • Marijuana was the second-most, with 123 people reporting marijuana use
  • Among girls, prescription opioids (Percocet, Vicodin, etc.) were their third most frequently used substance
  • Among boys, stimulants (cocaine, Adderall, etc.) were the third most frequently used substance among boys

Regarding the age they first abused drugs or alcohol:

  • Girls: 48.3% of the 137 women reported that they were 15 to 17 years old when they first abused a substance
  • Boys: 55.07% of the 138 men reported that they were 15 to 17 years old when they first abused a substance

Why Did They Experiment with Drugs or Alcohol?

Teens may experiment with drugs or alcohol for a variety of reasons. Adolescence brings many new experiences with it, both good and bad. Aspects of youth, such as peer pressure or stress, can often drive adolescents to seek out substances for relief. Teens are naturally more likely to partake in risk-taking behaviors, potentially leading to substance use. A teen’s home life can also play a large role, as well as genetic factors that can be passed from parent to child. Teens may also self-medicate with substances to relieve symptoms of undiagnosed mental health issues.

The responses to The Recovery Village survey show the specific reasons why people turn to substance use during adolescence (more than one option could be selected):

  • 42.18% were curious about the euphoric effects of a substance
  • 40.73% felt peer pressure or wanted to appease friends and acquaintances
  • 28.36% wanted to deal with stress
  • 22.18% used substances to cope with mental health problems
  • 12.36% were introduced to substances by a family member

If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village can help. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn more about how professional treatment can address a substance use disorder. Take the first step toward a healthier future, call today.

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By – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.” December 2018. Accessed September 12, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “United States Adolescent Substance Abuse Facts.” May 1, 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” January 2014. Accessed September 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.