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Drug Use in Adolescence

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 12th grade, about half of adolescents have misused an illicit drug at least once.1 The most commonly used drug is marijuana, but adolescents can find many harmful substances, such as prescription medications, glues, and aerosols, in the home.1 Many factors and strategies can help adolescents stay drug free: Strong positive connections with parents, other family members, school, and religion; having parents present clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline; and reduced access in the home to illegal substances.2

Check out these resources for adolescents who may be struggling with illicit drug use issues (including the abuse of prescription drugs)

  • Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) substance abuse treatment helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. Confidential, free service, along with referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations, are available for individuals and family members facing substance abuse and mental health issues.
  • To find a local substance abuse treatment facility, visit SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Learn more about adolescents and illicit drug use

  • Check out OAH’s full library of federal adolescent health resources on substance abuse, in general, and those specific to illicit (and non-illicit) drug use.
  • For data and trends on adolescent drug abuse, check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) DrugFacts page to access reports.

Resources for Parents

  • Parents or other caregivers looking for resources and strategies to prevent, or stop, illicit drug use by adolescents, can visit the Partnership at DrugFree.org.
  • Get Smart About Drugs is a online resource from the Drug Enforcement Administration for parents. It includes research, news, quizzes, and videos to educate parents about how to identify and prevent drug abuse among children and young adults.
  • This guide, a joint effort between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, provides information and research specifically for parents on why kids use drugs and how parents can be involved in helping stay drug free.

Resources for Adolescents

  • NIDA has a number of different resources on illicit drug use, including a designated section for adolescents looking for more information on the science behind drug abuse and the effects of drug use on the body and brain.
  • To learn how to stay drug-free, adolescents can visit Above the Influence, the adolescent-geared website from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).


1 Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E. & Patrick, M.E. (2018). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2017: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2017.pdf
2 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Preventing drug use among children and adolescents. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/preventingdruguse.pdf.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on September 21, 2016