More than a third of pollers saw at least one friend’s adolescent substance use developed into addiction in adulthood.

Teen drug use has been prevalent in the United States for decades. Substance use at a young age can easily lead to dependence, addiction and physical or mental health issues later in life. A recent survey by The Recovery Village indicates that these risks are well known to most teens and adults. If this is the case, why do young people continue to use drugs in spite of potentially lifelong consequences?

The survey asked participants to share information about their substance use as teens and young adults. The results show that around 66% of the respondents began using substances before the age of 18. According to the National Institute on Drugs and Alcohol, a majority of people with a substance use disorder used drugs or alcohol before age 18.

Certain factors, such as peer pressure or stress, can influence a teen’s desire to abuse drugs and alcohol. Young adults also face temptations after graduating high school, as alcohol and drug use are often prevalent in college. A genetic predisposition to addiction may make experimental substance use in young adulthood even riskier.

Who Becomes Addicted to Drugs?

Risk-taking behaviors, impulsive tendencies and mental health disorders can be passed down from parent to child. These all increase risks for substance use and addiction. Children are more likely to have an addiction themselves if their parent has a history of drug abuse.

Anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol, with or without a family history. These substances rewire the brain’s reward pathways, making people crave or require the drug to function. As adolescents are already more prone to taking risks, drug or alcohol use can be a very real temptation for many teens and young adults.

According to the CDC, using drugs at a young age can:
  • Impair growth and development, especially in brain function
  • Lead to risky behaviors like drunk driving or unprotected sex
  • Create heart problems and sleep issues in adulthood

Statistics on Teen & College Substance Use

In The Recovery Village survey, around 70% of respondents said that, during their teen or college years, some of their friends used drugs. In 2017, The Department of Health and Human Services found that 30% of high schoolers had used alcohol within the last month and 36% had used marijuana at least once. Teen substance abuse and underage drinking statistics like these show that many people are experimenting with substances at a young age.

When asked if any friends who used substances went on to develop an addiction, more than one-third (36.75%) of The Recovery Village’s survey respondents said that at least one friend did. Underage substance use is one of the largest predictors of drug addiction in adults. The results of the survey also highlight that many teens or young adults do not simply “grow out of” using drugs or alcohol.

Does Teen Drug Use Precede Addiction Later in Life?

Poll respondents were also asked if they believed drug use as a teen or young adult leads to addiction later on. The results show that 50.75% agree or strongly agree, and 30.75% are unsure.

These answers indicate that most people understand that substance use in youth can increase the likelihood of addiction in adulthood. Only a small minority believed that early substance use does not lead to addiction. They may not have witnessed the dangers of underage drinking or drug use firsthand, or they may be unaware of the consequences that substance use can have. Alternatively, they may have used substances themselves at a young age without repercussions later in life. While some people are able to experiment with drugs and alcohol in their youth without becoming addicted later on, there are also many people who attribute addiction to early substance use.

The Benefits of Early Intervention

Using drugs or alcohol at a young age does not doom you or your child to a future of addiction. The best way to stop this from happening is to seek out help and begin the recovery process before the situation worsens.

Addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs are designed to set you up for long-term success, teaching you the tools needed to ensure lifelong recovery.

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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 – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Substance Use & Risks.” April 1, 2019. Accessed September 13, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” January 2014. Accessed September 13, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “United States Adolescent Substance Abuse Facts.” May 1, 2019. Accessed September 13, 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.