Using drugs at a young age can cause lifelong problems that go beyond addiction. The brain is still developing throughout adolescence, and teen drug use can impair normal brain function in adulthood. Anti-drug awareness campaigns such as NOPE are found in schools across the country, but many teens continue to use drugs. For example, around 50% of high school students have used marijuana. In addition, about 20% have misused prescription medication.

The Recovery Village recently surveyed 400 people aged 18 or older to learn more about teen drug use. Specifically, the poll was created to find out why teens use drugs even when they understand the risks of addiction and other negative side effects. The survey asked adults about their own drug use as a teen, along with why they believe teens use drugs. There are four questions in particular that can help us gain an understanding of why informed teens use drugs. The answers can show us how informed teens and even adults really are.

How Informed Are Teens About Drug Use?

According to the results of The Recovery Village’s poll on teen drug use, most age groups are generally aware that drug use can lead to addiction and other negative side effects. In fact, of survey participants between the ages of 18 and 24, 25% percent said that they strongly agree that adolescent drug use can lead to addiction. The youngest age group surveyed had stronger opinions on adolescent drug use leading to addiction than any other age group. Roughly 20% of adults aged 25–34 strongly agreed with the statement, while people aged 35–44 made up the smallest percentage of adults who thought teen drug use leads to addiction, with only 13.16% responding that they strongly agree. About 18% of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 54 strongly agree, while 17% of adults over the age of 54 thought young adult drug use leads to addiction.

Overall, 32.5% of all age groups agreed that adolescent drug use can lead to addiction. While the majority either agreed or strongly agreed, 30% of all respondents said that they were unsure or had neutral opinions on whether or not addiction is caused by early drug use. While most people believe that drug use can cause negative consequences, there are many people from all age groups who are still unsure.

Did Peers Develop Addiction After Recreational Use?

The number of survey respondents who believed a peer developed an addiction after using drugs as a young adult was split. Of those surveyed, 36% said that they do not believe any of their peers developed an addiction, while 36% said that at least one friend did develop an addiction. Only 18% were unsure. Based on their peer observations, many survey respondents saw a link between teen drug use and addiction.

Does Recreational Drug Use Lead to Addiction at Any Age?

The majority of survey participants agreed or strongly agreed that drug use could lead to addiction at any age. However, around 25% had a neutral response or were unsure about whether drug use at any age could lead to addiction.

Addiction can occur at any point in a person’s life, but using substances at a younger age can increase the likelihood of addiction as an adult. The earlier someone uses drugs, the more likely they are to develop problems with drug misuse and addiction.

Using Drugs Despite the Consequences

Based on the survey results, it can be concluded that most people above the age of 18 are well informed about the consequences of drug use. If teens and young adults understand that recreational drug use can lead to addiction, why do they continue to use drugs? Certain external and internal factors in an adolescent’s life can lead them to experiment with drugs. Regardless, it appears that they do this in spite of knowing that substance use can cause addiction.

External Factors of Teen Drug Use

The teenage years bring a variety of new experiences, both good and bad. Young people may use drugs to help relieve stress, cope with turbulent life changes or fit in with others. Teen drug use can often be caused by:

  • Peer pressure: Most young people want to fit in with their peers. If they are around peers who are using drugs, they may be more likely to join them or be pressured to do so.
  • Academic or athletic performance: Many teens feel a lot of pressure to succeed either academically, athletically or both. Because of this, they may turn to drugs in high school. As examples, they may use steroids for increasing athletic abilities or drugs like Adderall to help with focus.
  • Major life events: During high school, young people go through many new experiences. However, not all of these experiences are necessarily good ones. Many teens have to deal with emotional issues like their parents’ divorce, their own breakups, attending new schools and potentially coping with being bullied. These can all influence teens to use drugs as an escape.
  • Boredom: Stress isn’t the only factor that may drive a teen to use drugs. About 30% of The Recovery Village survey participants reported using drugs because they were simply bored.

Internal Factors of Teen Drug Use

There are certain factors that can predispose teens to riskier behaviors. These include:

  • Brain development: The brain is not fully developed until a person reaches their mid-20s. This is when the prefrontal cortex, which is used for decision making, is finished developing. An underdeveloped prefrontal cortex is one reason why younger people often engage in riskier behavior than they would as adults.
  • Genetics: A person’s genes can influence how likely they are to develop a drug addiction. If a teen has a parent or relative who has a substance use disorder, they may be more likely to develop one themselves.