Many teens and young adults use drugs and alcohol, but does recreational drug use during the summer months end in addiction?

Does summer boredom lead to addiction among young Americans? A new survey from The Recovery Village reveals that people’s perception of adolescent recreational drug use doesn’t align with the reality of their experiences and those of their peers — whether the summer sun is in the sky or not.

To understand the connection between seasonality and adolescent recreational drug use and addiction, The Recovery Village recently surveyed 400 people from across the United States, asking about their past experiences with substances.  

The first several survey responses aligned with established data on national drug use trends:

  • Most people used drugs recreationally during adolescence: Almost 69% of respondents said they used alcohol or prescription or illicit drugs recreationally during their adolescent or college years.
  • Most people were teenagers when they experimented with substances: Over 51% of respondents said they first used drugs recreationally between the ages of 15 and 17.
  • Alcohol and marijuana were the main drugs of choice: Alcohol (86% of respondents) and marijuana (44% of respondents) were the substances most frequently used by survey respondents during adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Most drug use during adolescence was not excessive: As for the frequency of recreational drug use during adolescence, 44% of survey respondents said they used substances “a few times,” 36% responded “frequently, or weekly,” 6% responded “daily,” and almost 6% responded “I was addicted to drugs or alcohol.” 

Do Teens Use Drugs Mostly During the Summer?

The Recovery Village survey revealed mixed, and even conflicting, responses about the seasonality of substance use among teens and young adults

The survey revealed that:

  • Most respondents think that teens use drugs during the summer: When survey participants were asked during which part of the year they think teens and young adults are most likely to use substances recreationally, almost 80% said summer, as opposed to 20% who responded spring, fall or winter.
  • Most respondents did NOT use drugs more during the summer, as teenagers: According to The Recovery Village survey, 63.63% of respondents said they used drugs more frequently during the school year (both on weekdays and weekends) as opposed to 29% who reported using drugs during the summer. 

So, at least among these 400 respondents, summer vacation was not the prime time for adolescent experimentation with drugs and alcohol. 

Is Boredom the Root of Drug Use and Addiction?

A common perception of teen drug use is that teens are more likely to experiment with drugs when they don’t have anything better to do. 

However, The Recovery Village survey revealed that:

  • Most people did NOT use drugs out of boredom: When asked whether they used drugs primarily out of boredom, over 57% said no, as opposed to 30% who said yes. A small 11% of participants responded that they were unsure. 
  • Many people experimented out of curiosity: When asked why they used drugs recreationally during adolescence and young adulthood, 42% of respondents said they were curious about the euphoric effects of these substances. Many write-in responses were in this same vein, including, “Just for the fun of it,” and, “To try it.” 
  • Some people tried drugs out of peer pressure: In a close second to the “curiosity” response, 40% of respondents noted “peer pressure,” or “to appease friends and acquaintances” as the reason behind their substance use. Similarly, some of the write-in responses were, “As a social thing with friends,” “To be social,” and “To fit in with my friends.”
  • Boredom was tied to the school year, not the summer: Of the respondents who replied yes, over 45% said that their boredom began during the school year, as opposed to 36% who said that they were bored during summer vacation or not being in school. Almost 18% said that their boredom was unrelated to school or summer vacation in general. 

So, drug use was not necessarily tied to summertime — but what about for their friends and peers?

Immediate Help for Teens Who Struggle With Drug Use

These free, confidential hotlines are available to help teens at any time. 

Survey participants were also asked about the recreational substance use of their peers and friends during adolescence. The survey showed that: 

  • Most peoples’ friends and peers used substances recreationally as teens: Most respondents’ friends and peers used drugs recreationally (over 40%).
  • Most people did NOT think their peers’ substance use was tied to summertime: When faced with the statement, “My friends’ and/or peers’ recreational substance use was due to summertime boredom,” most people (35%) responded “neutral, or unsure,” as opposed to 25% who responded “strongly agree” and “agree,” and 28% who responded “disagree” and “strongly disagree.” 

How Does Adolescent Drug Use Influence Adult Drug Use?

The Recovery Village survey also asked participants how their past substance use has influenced their current drug or alcohol use. 

According to the survey:

  • Most people who used drugs recreationally during adolescence did NOT develop an addiction: Most survey respondents (34%) answered that their past drug use caused them to be more cautious of drug and alcohol use, and 32% of participants noted that it had not significantly influenced their current substance use. Only 6% of respondents, or 17 people, responded that it contributed to the development of a past or current addiction.
  • Most people’s peers did NOT become addicted to substances: Approximately 54% of respondents responded “no,” or “unsure,” when asked if their friends or peers who used drugs recreationally developed an addiction, as opposed to 36% who answered “yes, one of them,” and, “yes, more than one of them.” 

According to responses The Recovery Village survey, adolescent drug use can lead to addiction, but it is not the norm among the people surveyed or their peers.

Teen Drug Use: Perception Doesn’t Always Match Reality

Although most respondents answered that their adolescent recreational drug use — and that of their friends and peers — did NOT contribute to addiction, their beliefs said otherwise. 

The Recovery Village’s survey revealed that despite their own experiences with substances: 

  • People think recreational drug use as a teen DOES lead to addiction: Over 50% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Recreational drug or alcohol use as an adolescent or young adult leads to the development of addiction later in life.” 
  • People think recreational drug use at ANY point in life leads to addiction: The majority (45%, of respondents) also agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Recreational drug or alcohol use at any point in life leads to the development of addiction.”

So, why the disconnect among the responses? Why do people believe that recreational drug use during adolescence contributes to addiction, even when their own past experiences with drugs, and those of their peers, show otherwise? 

One possible answer could be the age gap between survey respondents and today’s teenagers and young adults. About 63% of survey respondents were over the age of 35. Although most survey respondents said that their substance use did not lead to addiction, they may feel that today’s teens are more susceptible to addiction, which could explain the disconnect in the data between perceptions and reality of past experiences.

The Recovery Village recognizes that regardless of why or when teens use drugs, they deserve research-backed treatment if they struggle with addiction. If you or a teen you know need help with addiction, call today to learn more about treatment options. 

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…] Drug Use and Health.” September 2018. Accessed June 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.