Drug Use in High School

It is devastating to imagine that your teenager may be abusing drugs. Unfortunately, it is common to find drugs and alcohol in high school, since these substances are so easy for kids to acquire. If your high schooler is dealing with substance addiction, get help now.

Help your teen overcome drug abuse

6 min read

Teens are Using Drugs In High School

Your teenager might enter high school as a child, but they will graduate as a young adult. 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. Sadly, some teens doing drugs will suffer serious consequences as a result of substance use.

Why do teenagers use drugs? There are countless reasons. Many are reacting to peer pressure and believe 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 grades. High school is often the first time that kids encounter illicit substances — and the curiosity can be too much to resist.

Drug Use in High School

Statistics of Drug Use in High School

Facts about teenage drug and alcohol abuse reveal that 86% of this age group know someone who smokes, drinks or does drugs during the school day.


In the U.S., teens abuse alcohol more than any illicit drug. Not surprisingly, it causes the most harm — teen alcohol abuse is responsible each year for nearly 200,000 ER visits and 4,300 deaths among kids under 21.

  • 68% of 12th graders have tried alcohol
  • 37.4% of 12th graders drank in the last month
  • 23.5% of 10th graders drank in the last month

Among high schoolers, within the month they were surveyed:

  • 35% drank some alcohol
  • 21% binge drank (consuming an excessive amount)
  • 22% rode in someone’s car who’d been drinking
  • 10% drove after drinking


In terms of illicit drugs, teens use marijuana the most. More high school seniors smoke pot than smoke cigarettes at this point, and as of 2015, high school seniors are about as likely to smoke weed as they are to drink.

Drug Use in High School

According to experts, around 13% of people who start smoking pot as teenagers become dependent on it. Regular marijuana use can cause a drop in IQ of up to 8 points. Considering that nearly 3,300 teens try weed for the first time every day, it’s an undeniable problem that’s impacting high schoolers everywhere.

The stats show that marijuana use is rampant:

  • 35.1% of 12th graders have smoked pot in the past year
  • 21.3% of 12th graders have smoked pot in the last 30 days
  • 16.6% of 10th graders have smoked pot in the last 30 days
  • 6% of 12th graders say they use marijuana every day
  • 81% of 12th graders say it would be easy to get marijuana
  • Only 32% of 12th graders feel that regular marijuana use is harmful

According to one study, 12th graders who smoke marijuana are 65% more likely to crash their car. Among 12th graders in the U.S., one out of eight drove after smoking marijuana at some point in the last two weeks — one in five rode with a driver who’d been smoking.

Other Drugs Used by High Schoolers

Nearly a quarter of American high schoolers use at least one type of illicit drug. According to a high school drug use survey from National Institute of Drug Abuse, the next most popular drugs in high schools — especially among 12th graders — are:

  • Amphetamines
  • Adderall
  • Opioid painkillers
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Tranquilizers
  • Cough medicine
  • Vicodin
  • Hallucinogens
  • OxyContin
  • Sedatives
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Ritalin
  • Inhalants
  • Salvia

Approximately 2.5% of seniors are caught up in cocaine use. This may seem small, but it amounts to more than a million teens doing drugs that could kill them. High school deaths are reported each year for nearly every drug on that list. Don’t assume that your kids aren’t using, or that they’re safe from these dangers. It’s a mistake that far too many parents have made in the past.

Drug Use in High School

Effects of Drug Use in High School

Consequences of addiction include brain abnormalities, slowed thinking and impaired learning and memory. It can also deplete the brain of certain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, sending high schoolers into a prolonged depression and leaving them susceptible for more destructive behaviors.

Alcohol abuse in high school impacts the brain just as hard as other drugs. Memory problems and other life-long brain issues are common in high schoolers who drink excessively. And kids who start before age 15 are 6 times more likely to develop alcoholism later in life than individuals who wait until 21.

Substance abuse in high school can also cause stunted growth — in one study, high school boys addicted to weed were an average of 4.6 inches shorter when they reached age 20.

Substance Abuse in Schools

High schoolers can find drugs through a friend, through word-of-mouth and on the Internet. Most kids needn’t look any further than their school — nearly 44% of high school students know a classmate who sells drugs. When asked which drugs are sold:

  • 91% said marijuana
  • 24% said prescription drugs
  • 9% said cocaine
  • 7% said ecstasy

Does Your Teenager Need Addiction Treatment?

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

teen boy sitting in park needing drug treatment

We know that it can be difficult to reach out for help — especially because our society often stigmatizes and shames people who are suffering from addiction. But your child’s life is far more important than what your neighbors may think. Besides, real friends will offer love and understanding, not judgment.

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

At TheRecoveryVillage.com, we can help you sort through those details — confidentially. You are not alone — call to speak with one of our addiction specialists today.

Questions? We have answers.

Our recovery advisors have more information about substance abuse, and adolescent treatment options.

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Drug Use in High School
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