Adolescence is a time for learning, growth and establishing an identity. There are many developmental changes that occur during the adolescent years, including physical, psychological and behavioral changes. Adolescence can also be a time for experimentation, rebellion and poor choices. Teen addiction is prevalent in today’s society, which often leaves parents feeling powerless, helpless and out of control.

Understanding addiction is critical in being able to recognize that your teenager has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Being vigilant and understanding your teen is important to identify warning signs, symptoms and problematic behaviors.

Teen Drug Abuse Facts and Statistics

Teen drug statistics are obtained on a yearly basis by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an effort from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse conducts a survey every five years to assess teen drug use facts, statistics and trends in the adolescent population. Findings from both studies show that teen alcohol abuse, marijuana and vaping are currently the biggest issues in the adolescent population.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found the following statistics regarding teen drug abuse:

  • Approximately 1 in 20 teenagers aged 12 to 17 drank 5 or more alcoholic drinks in the month prior to being surveyed
  • About 488,000 teenagers aged 12 to 17 years old had alcohol use disorder in the prior year
  • Only 8.6% of 12 to 17-year-olds with an alcohol use disorder in the past year received treatment
  • Roughly 2 out of 5 high school seniors used a vaping device in the past year

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2018 Monitoring the Future survey found the following statistics:

  • 17.6% of 8th graders, 32.3% of 10th graders and 37.3% of 12th graders vaped in the past year
  • About 5.8% of 12th graders report that they use marijuana on a daily basis.
  • Only 1 in 4 high school seniors report that marijuana use presents a great risk
  • 8.2% of 8th graders, 18.6% of 10th graders and 30.2% of 12th graders used alcohol in the past month
  • 23.5% of 8th graders reported that they have tried alcohol

Why Teens Use Drugs and Alcohol

Experimenting, testing boundaries and engaging in risky behaviors are regular parts of teenage development. Some of the problems teens face stem from these characteristics, as they lead to curiosity and identity formation. Some teenagers may use drugs and alcohol in response to peer pressure or out of a desire to fit in and bond with their peers. Other teenagers may start to use out of curiosity or boredom, while other adolescents may use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with low self-esteem, stress and depression.

Understanding the issues teens face today and being knowledgeable about why teens do drugs and why teens drink are vital in helping teenagers lead healthy lives. Being aware of risk factors can help predict the likelihood that an adolescent may try to use substances. Some risk factors can include low grades, bullying, accessibility and views about drug use. Reducing risk factors and increasing buffering influences, such as a strong bond with parents, being active in the school and community and spending time with positive role models can help prevent substance abuse.

Peer Pressure

Peer influence and the desire to fit in are extremely important in an adolescent’s development. Teen peer pressure is one of the factors that can lead to an adolescent’s initial experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Teenagers often assume that “everyone else is doing it,” which may or may not be accurate, prompting them to do it too. Teenagers may use drugs and alcohol for fear of not being accepted by their peers or from being excluded from some social circles.


In adolescence, teens experiment with drugs and alcohol out of a desire to seek adventure or to engage in daring activities. Teen drug use can result from boredom or sheer curiosity to experience something new. Curiosity often comes before experimentation occurs and can be an ideal time for prevention. Answering questions and educating teenagers about consequences may help deter or prevent drug and alcohol use. Despite intervention, an adolescent may go on to experiment with substances anyway to pursue their curiosity.


There are many pressures that adolescents face today, which can lead to depression, anxiety, anger and other mental health challenges. An adolescent may use drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate the outcomes of teen stress. Stress can play an important role in starting and continuing drug use. Teen depression and teen anxiety can lead to significant distress and impairment. Adolescents may turn to drugs to reduce these feelings of discomfort and distress. Adolescents may perceive drug use as a way to avoid their problems and challenges.

Other Factors

Other factors can contribute to teenage drug and alcohol use. There is a powerful linkage between genetics and addiction. Adolescents who have a family history of substance use are at higher risk of using substances themselves.

Social Media

There is an impactful linkage between teens and social media, technology and smartphone usage. Social media has a powerful influence on teenagers and can potentially lead to drug and alcohol abuse. The impact of social media on teens can be persuasive and influential, especially when teenagers visit social media sites that promote substance use or see pictures and videos of their friends using substances. A study found that 75% of teens said that seeing photos of other teens partying on social networking sites made them want to do the same, and almost 50% of teens who saw these pictures perceived the teens in the photos as having a good time.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health and addiction can also be a cause for usage. Teenagers who have mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders can turn to alcohol and drug use to help them to cope with their symptoms and feelings. Although substance use can alleviate unwanted symptoms in the short-term, it only intensifies them in the long-term. If a teenager continues to self-medicate, they can develop a substance use disorder that will co-occur with their mental health condition.

Importance of Open Communication

The parent-child relationship is extremely important in teen drug prevention. Research has shown that the parental bond and a child’s home environment has a significant impact on children. Many parents struggle to understand how to talk to teens about drugs.

It is critical to stay actively engaged in your child’s life and to always maintain an open-door policy. It is important to maintain open communication so that both parties feel comfortable in addressing questions and concerns at any time. A parent can help to dispel any myths or incorrect perceptions that a child may have about drug and alcohol use in order to help them make healthy decisions.

Parents should start having conversations with their children in middle school in an attempt to prevent future use. Parents would benefit from being mindful of avoiding accusations scare tactics when talking to their children about drugs and addiction.

Does My Teen Need Help?

Parents need to be aware and vigilant to the signs of teenage drug and alcohol use. Some signs and indicators of drug and alcohol use can include:

  • Acting oddly without reason
  • Isolating themselves and being sullen and withdrawn
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Changes in social groups
  • Diminished personal hygiene
  • Low or failing grades in school
  • Tardiness, cutting classes or excessive absences from school
  • Lack of interest in participating in enjoyable activities
  • Alterations in eating and sleeping habits
  • Conflict in relationships with family and friends

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to address them with your child. It is important to understand the difference between experimentation and addiction when assessing treatment needs for their child. While talking to your teenager, it is helpful to be knowledgeable about the substances that are being used in addition to gathering information to understand the extent of the problem.

If you determine that your child is struggling with addiction, research should be conducted on various treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient teen drug rehab facilities. When researching treatment options for teen substance abuse, parents may desire to look into teen-only treatment facilities. Teenagers often benefit from receiving treatment separately from adults, as they are able to receive support and validation from peers who are going through similar challenges.

If your child is struggling with addiction, contact one of the representatives at The Recovery Village for confidential assistance and support. Our representatives can answer your questions about teen addiction, help assess your child’s situation and advise if further steps need to be taken. We can also discuss substance abuse treatment options for your teen.