Learn about teen drug experimentation and the dangers that it can lead to.

Teen drug use is a serious problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, by their senior year of high school, more than 20% of teenagers have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose, 40% have smoked a cigarette, 50% have taken an illegal drug and 70% have tried alcohol. Many parents fail to understand that statistically, their teenager is likely to have used drugs or alcohol by the time they graduate.

Many parents who learn about these alarming statistics wonder, “What is experimental drug use?” Experimental drug use takes place when an individual takes a drug less than three times to experience its effects.

How Experimental Teen Drug Use Begins

Teens often begin using drugs at school or with friends who already use drugs. Peer pressure is the primary cause of experimental drug use and often influences teens who have been taught not to use drugs. Teens are likely to receive most of their information about drug use from peers. Experimental drug use often initially involves a more socially acceptable drug, such as marijuananicotine or alcohol. When a teen uses one of these drugs and finds out that this single-use does not cause significant harm or immediately turns into an addiction, they may develop a false sense of security and try more dangerous drugs.

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Many parents who have teenagers wonder, “Why do teens start using drugs?” There are several reasons that teens may begin experimenting with drugs, including:

  • Giving in to peer pressure
  • Desiring to feel good
  • Self-medicating stress, anxiety or untreated mental illness
  • Improving academic performance
  • Experimenting and curiosity

Even teenagers who have been educated about drug use and its dangers may rationalize using drugs “just once” for any of the above reasons.

Experimenting with Drugs is NOT Harmless

As teenage drug abuse statistics show, teenage drug use is a significant problem. Over 5,000 young peoplebetween the ages of 15 and 25 die each year from drug overdoses. Many of those who overdose started with experimentation that they never expected to develop into anything more.

Experimentation with drugs may create a higher risk of overdose, as a teenager may not be aware of what a particular dose of drugs may do to them and may be more likely to overdose. This can be an especially significant problem when a peer who has used a drug and becomes tolerant to its effects gives that same dose to another teenager who has never used the substance. This high dose can cause the teen who is experimenting to overdose and lead to permanent injury or death. Even if experimentation does not cause harm, it can start teens on the path to drug addiction — a path that can have profound consequences on their future.

Experimenting vs. Addiction

Teen addiction almost always starts with experimentation. Experimentation can lead to recreational drug use, which begins to rewire the brain and can quickly lead to an addiction. Experimentation does not always lead to addiction, but addiction is always a result of having experimented with drugs or alcohol at some point. When teens never experiment with a drug, they are ensuring that they will not develop an addiction to that drug.

Talking to Your Teenager About Teen Drug Use

Talking to teens about drugs is vital to help prevent them from experimenting with drugs later in life. When you talk to your teen about drugs, be sure that you explain the potential dangers of drugs, including the physical and social dangers that drugs can create. Be sure that they understand that their peers who use drugs likely do not understand the long-term dangers that are associated with drug use and will only share one perspective about drug use.

When talking to your teen, be sure to address the reasons that teens use drugs, and help them plan ways to avoid situations that could lead to drug use. Developing a plan before these situations are encountered will help your teen better deal with them when they arise. Be sure to let your teen know that you are there to help them, not judge them.

If you suspect or know that your teen is using drugs, you should seek immediate professional help for them to reduce the risk of the long-term consequences of drug use. The Recovery Village has a strong record of helping teens who have used drugs to achieve and maintain sobriety. Reach out to a representative today to learn more about our evidence-based treatment programs.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Alcohol and Drug Foundation. “Alcohol & Drug Use“>Alcohol […]amp; Drug Use.” 2019. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” Jan. 2014. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Why Do Adolescents Take Drugs?” January 2014. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institutes of Health. “Drug Overdoses in Youth“>Drug Ove[…]oses in Youth.” February 2019. Accessed Aug. 25, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “United States Adolescent Substance Abuse Facts“>United S[…]e Abuse Facts.” May 1, 2019. Accessed August 25, 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.