Substance Abuse

Alcohol is the substance abused most frequently by adolescents, followed by marijuana and tobacco.[1]  In the past month, 40 percent of high school seniors reported drinking some alcohol, almost 15 percent of adolescents abused marijuana, and 13 percent of adolescents reported smoking cigarettes.[2]

Alcohol

More adolescents drink alcohol than smoke cigarettes or use marijuana—combined. [3]   Within the past month, four out of 10 high school seniors report drinking some alcohol and more than one in three have engaged in “binge drinking.” [4]   Drinking endangers adolescents in multiple ways including motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death for this age group.[5],[6] More than one in four adolescents has ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking.[7] Genetic factors and life stressors influence adolescents’ alcohol abuse, but parents and guardians can help by monitoring adolescents’ activities and keeping channels of communication open.[8]

Tobacco

Cigarette smoking among adolescents has declined dramatically in the last 15 years. Today, most adolescents do not smoke, but about one in eight has smoked within the past month [9] and the use of smokeless tobacco has increased slightly in recent years.[10] Tobacco use harms nearly every organ in the body,[11] and more than six million children born between 1983 and 2000 will die in adulthood of smoking-related illnesses.[12] Multiple factors influence whether an adolescent becomes a regular smoker, including genetics and having parents or peers who smoke.[13] Many adolescents start trying tobacco products at a young age, so prevention efforts in schools, in communities, and in homes, can help and should begin early.

Illicit and Nonillicit Drug Use

Illicit drug use—which includes the abuse of illegal drugs and/or the misuse of prescription medications or household substances—is something many adolescents engage in occasionally, and a few do regularly. By the twelfth grade, about half of adolescents have abused an illicit drug at least once. The most commonly used drug is marijuana but adolescents can find many abused substances, such as prescription medications, glues, and aerosols, in the home. [14]  Many factors and strategies can help adolescents stay drug free: Strong positive connections with parents, other family members, school, and religion; having parents present in the home at key times of the day; and reduced access in the home to illegal substances.[15]


 


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/calltoaction.pdf
[2] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2010). Monitoring the Future: National results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2010.pdf
[3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. Rockville, MD: Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/underagedrinking/calltoaction.pdf
[4] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2010). Monitoring the Future: National results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2010.pdf
[5] Miniño, A. M., Xu, J., & Kochanek, K. D. (2010). Deaths: Preliminary data for 2008. National Vital Statistics Reports 59(2). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics Retrieved February 17, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_02.pdf
[6] U.S. Department of Transportation. Alcohol-impaired driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration traffic safety facts, 2009 data. DOT HS 811 385. Washington, D.C. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/ncsa/pdf/2010/811385.pdf
[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey - United States, 2009. Surveillance summaries: MMWR 2010; 59 (No. SS-5). Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf
[8] Brody, G. E., Beach, S. R. H., Philibert, R. A., Chen, Y.-f., & Murry, V. M. (2009). Prevention effects moderate the association of 5-HTTLPR and youth risk behavior initiation: Gene x environment hypotheses tested via a randomized prevention design. Child Development, 80(3), 645-661.
[9] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Adolescent cigarette smoking holds at lowest recorded levels. NIDA Notes, 23(2). Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/NIDA_notes/NNvol23N2/tearoff.html
[10] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2010). Monitoring the Future: National results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2010.pdf
[11] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2009). Tobacco addiction.  Research Report Series. NIH publication number 09-4342. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/TobaccoRRS_v16.pdf
[12] Hahn, E. J., Rayens, M. K., Chaloupka, F. J., Okoli, C. T. C., & Yang, J. (2002). Projected smoking-related deaths among U.S. youth: A 2000 update.  ImpacTeen Research Paper Series, No. 22. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.impacteen.org/generalarea_PDFs/Hahn_researchpaper22_May2002.pdf
[13] O’Loughlin, J. O., Karp, I., Koulis, T., Paradis, G., & DiFranza, J. (2009). Determinants of first puff and daily cigarette smoking in adolescents. American Journal of Epidemiology, 170(5), 585-597.
[14] Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2010). Monitoring the Future: National results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2010.pdf
[15] Blum, R. W., & Rinehart, P. M. (1997). Reducing the risk: Connections that make a difference in the lives of youth. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH).

Last updated: April 17, 2014