High school is where many teenagers encounter drugs and alcohol for the first time. Read about the latest facts and statistics on adolescent substance use here.

Teenagers might enter high school as children, but they graduate as young adults. This four-year period is transformational — full of growth, hardships and self-discovery. It’s also an experimental time, and for millions of teens, that means trying drugs and alcohol

The availability of drugs at school is surprisingly high, especially in high school. Sadly, some teens using drugs will suffer serious consequences as a result of their substance use. This article highlights teenage drug usage statistics and what factors influence the prevalence of drugs in school settings.

Article at a Glance:

  • Teens often experiment with drug use due to peer pressure and academic pressure.
  • Approximately 20 percent of high school students have had an encounter with drugs on school property.
  • High school students use alcohol more than any other illicit drug.
  • Using drugs during the teenage years can have severe and long-lasting effects.
  • The Recovery Village offers help for teenagers who are misusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

There are many different possible causes of teen drug use. Many are reacting to peer pressure and believe that turning to drugs and alcohol is how to become popular in high school. Some use drugs to self-medicate from painful feelings. 

Some teens even turn to “study aid” drugs like Adderall or Ritalin, because they believe these substances will boost their academic performance. High school is often the first time that kids encounter illicit substances, and their curiosity often gets the better of them.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is influence from the people in one’s social group or setting. Not all peer pressure is bad, though. This influence can cause people to act more responsibly or join a sports team, for example. However, usually, when peer pressure is discussed, it is negative and often is tied to bullying.

Teens face an overwhelming amount of peer pressure in high school, from their classmates and friends. Peer pressure during adolescence often involves risky behaviors, such as trying drugs or alcohol. Teenagers may feel as though they need to give in to this pressure to fit in socially.

Academic Pressure

High school is an exceptionally busy and stressful period of life, and academic pressure in high school is very high. Students face harder classes and are gearing up to go to college or start a career. The pressure to get good grades, do well on entrance exams and succeed in extracurricular activities comes from both parents and teachers. 

Overwhelmed by homework and studying, teens sometimes turn to performance-enhancing drugs to boost their energy and concentration. They might also take drugs to help them sleep better under stress. Taken without a prescription, these drugs can become addictive and can cause dangerous health effects.

Teenage Drug Use Statistics

Though not all teens abuse drugs or alcohol, most teenagers know somebody who does. Drug prevalence and availability is high as well. The latest statistics show that nearly 20% of high school students have been offered, sold or given drugs, on school property, in the past year. Fortunately, the fact is that drug use among teenagers is declining: a recent study found that 4.3% of high schoolers had used drugs in the month before being surveyed, which is lower than drug usage statistics from previous years.

Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

In the United States, high school students abuse alcohol more than any illicit drug. Not surprisingly, it causes the most harm, and underage alcohol use is responsible for potentially losing 225,000 years of life and 3,900 deaths each year among people under the age of 21.

Statistics from surveys conducted the past two years show:

  • 25.8% of 12th graders had tried alcohol (2021 study)
  • 29% of high schoolers drank in the last month
  • 14% binge drank (consuming four or more alcoholic beverages in a row)
  • 17% rode in the car of someone who had been drinking
  • 5% drove after drinking

Teenage Marijuana Use Statistics

In terms of illicit drugs, teenagers abuse marijuana the most. With the legalization of marijuana and cannabis products in many states, marijuana is now easily accessible to many high school students. At the same time, teenage perception of the dangers associated with marijuana use or the risk of marijuana addiction has decreased. Marijuana use in teens has remained steady in recent years, though many teens are now vaping marijuana in addition to smoking it.

Current and even past marijuana use is linked to significantly lower academic performance. The statistics on teenage marijuana use show that middle and high school marijuana use is common:

  • 19.5% of 12th graders have used marijuana in the past month 
  • 4.1% of 8th graders have used marijuana in the past month
  • 10% of high schoolers earning As as grades currently use marijuana, as opposed to 48% of those earning Ds or Fs

Prescription Drug Statistics

Fortunately, the opioid epidemic seems to have avoided high schools. Unlike adults in the country, non-medical use of prescription drugs, especially opiate painkillers, has decreased among teenagers in recent years. About 11% of high school seniors report misusing prescription medications in the past year. However, the number is only 6.8% when it comes to the misuse of painkillers specifically.

Academic pressure and lack of sleep can cause teens to turn to drugs to boost their performance in school. Stimulants, like the amphetamine drugs Adderall and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are often chosen by students trying to cram for an exam or staying up late finishing homework. While these are often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they can cause harmful health effects if not used properly. They can also become addictive.

According to a 2021 survey:

  • 1.8% of high school seniors reported misusing Adderall over a 12 month period
  • 2.3% of high school seniors reported misuse any type of amphetamine over a 12 month period

Other Drugs Used by High Schoolers

Nearly a quarter of American high schoolers use at least one type of illicit drug. Many use more than one, or combine them with alcohol or tobacco. Common drugs used by teenagers (besides marijuana) include:

Teenage Drug Use Effects

Using drugs, alcohol or tobacco in high school can cause severe long-term effects. Trying any of these before the age of 21 significantly raises the risk of developing an addiction or drug dependence

Consequences of addiction to any substance include: 

  • Brain abnormalities
  • Slowed thinking
  • Impaired learning and memory issues 

Drug abuse can also deplete the brain of certain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, sending high schoolers into a prolonged depression and leaving them susceptible to more destructive behaviors. Furthermore, teen substance abuse of any kind can have a major negative impact on their academic performance.

Does Your Teenager Need Addiction Treatment?

If you notice any signs of addiction in your teen, now is the time to reach out to a professional. There is help for teenagers who are misusing drugs or alcohol, but the longer the substance abuse continues, the harder it will be for your child to recover over the long-term.

Your family doctor or your child’s pediatrician can help you determine the best course of action, and whether you should begin looking into substance abuse treatment options. Depending on the severity of addiction, they might encourage inpatient or outpatient drug rehab. At that point, you’ll need to look into insurance for rehab and any possible out-of-pocket costs of drug rehab treatment.

At The Recovery Village, we can help you sort through all the details of teen rehab, confidentially. You are not alone, and there is hope for your teen. Call The Recovery Village today to speak with a caring representative.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Sara G. Graff, LCSW
Sara Graff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Florida. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Sara has over twenty five years as a social worker and has worked in many areas of mental health. Read more
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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.