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Middle School Drug Use

Middle school age student lighting a cigarette

While middle school substance use is uncommon, the reality is that kids on drugs face very serious risks and challenges that can derail their entire future. It is extremely important to prevent youth substance abuse and provide help for kids who have started using drugs or alcohol.

Why Do Middle Schoolers Start Using Drugs?

Middle school is typically defined as grades 6–8, which generally corresponds to children between the ages of 11–13. While high school students may use drugs as an act of rebellion or to try new things, middle schoolers tend to have different reasons for starting drug use. Middle schoolers who see drug or alcohol use at home are far more likely to use substances than those who are not exposed to drugs or alcohol.

Factors causing substance abuse in youth include:

  • Watching parents or older siblings use drugs or alcohol
  • Unaddressed home or school challenges
  • Peer pressure
  • Boredom
  • Desire to be popular in middle school

Common Drugs Used In Middle School

An annual survey of middle and high school students has provided a great deal of data on common drug use among youth. In 2018, a Monitoring the Future assessment of adolescent substance use found that drug and alcohol use has substantially decreased among 8th graders compared to data from the 1990s. However, the data also highlights that substances (particularly alcohol) are still used by a minority of 8th graders.

The most common substance abused by youth is alcohol, with 1 out of 5 middle school students reporting alcohol use at some point in their life. Youth vaping is a close second to alcohol use. The prevalence of cigarette use and nicotine-containing vape use is lower than non-nicotine vaping. The annual prevalence of marijuana use among youth was found to be 10.5%, with a lifetime prevalence of nearly 14%.

Other drugs that are less frequently misused by middle schoolers include:

What Percent of Middle School Students Do Drugs?

Data from the Monitoring the Future survey provides clear statistics on drug use among 8th graders. Data shows that the most common substance abused by youth is alcohol, followed by vaping. Both of these have nearly twice the prevalence of marijuana use.

The annual prevalence of drug use among 8th graders in 2018 is as follows:

  • Alcohol: 18.7%
  • Vaping: 17.6%
  • Vaping with nicotine: 10.9%
  • Marijuana: 10.5%
  • Inhalants: 4.6%
  • Prescription amphetamines: 3.7%
  • OTC cough syrup: 2.8%
  • Cocaine: 0.8%
  • Prescription opioids: 0.7%
  • Heroin: 0.3%

Dangers of Drug Use During Youth

Substance use poses particular risks for young people. Regular alcohol use is shown to have potentially devastating short- and long-term consequences on brain development, including impairments in memory and learning. Studies on alcohol and youth brain development have consistently shown that alcohol use puts kids at higher risk for future substance misuse and addiction. In addition, alcohol use at a young age is associated with poor academic performance and a reduced likelihood of success in adulthood.

Drug addiction in youth has been identified as a predictor of poor performance in high school, college and adulthood. It also increases the risk of lifelong drug misuse and addiction.

Signs of Drug Use Among Middle Schoolers

The most common signs of drug use in teens include:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Missing school or extracurricular activities
  • Acting out or demonstrating behavioral problems
  • Abandoning old friends for new ones
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities

Some people have proposed that middle schools should have mandatory drug testing, which has become a very contentious issue. Given that alcohol is by far the most misused drug among middle school students, drug testing would be unlikely to serve the students who are most in need of assistance.

Other concerns include potential false positives that may be caused by legitimately prescribed drugs or dietary restrictions, as well as the question of how punishment is handled. Opponents of mandatory drug testing suggest that identifying and helping students who are doing poorly in school or at home would be far more effective and have a significantly more positive effect.

Prevention of Substance Abuse Among Youth

The most effective way to make sure that your child does not start using drugs is to be a consistent mentor and a proactive role model for your teenager. If your teen knows you are a caring and empathetic listener who they can go to with problems, they will be far more likely to confide in you when they have concerns about using drugs or alcohol.

Many parents will remember participating in D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education) while they were in middle school. This program has largely been considered to be a failure by addiction specialists, teachers, law enforcement and parents alike. Psychologist William Colson suggests, “As they get a little older, [students] become very curious about these drugs they’ve learned about from police officers.”

However, some evidence suggests that there are drug awareness lesson plans for middle school students that effectively teach kids about the dangers of drug use. Programs like “keepin’ it REAL” use interactive learning and emphasize honesty, reliability, and accountability, which are crucial components of good decision-making. These real-world skills are valuable for kids who will likely be faced with making decisions about whether they want to use drugs.

Helping Your Child With Substance Abuse

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for how to talk to your kids about drugs. The best approach is to maintain a consistent, healthy relationship with your child throughout their adolescence. When kids trust that they can approach you with difficult questions or problems and know you will respond objectively and try to help, they will see you as a valuable resource.

If you are concerned that your child is using alcohol or drugs, now is the time to seek help. Next Generation Village is a teen-specific rehab center that uses evidence-based techniques to help kids overcome substance use disorders. Contact us today to learn how we can help your teen get back on track.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.


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