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Despite Statistics, Teen Drug Addiction Remains A Problem

Teens taking various pills out of the palm of a teens hand  

According to 2018 teenage drug abuse statistics, the overall use of illegal drugs among teens has declined, and rates of use are lower than they have been in upwards of 20 years. While this finding is promising, drug abuse in adolescence can have serious consequences, and addiction is a potential outcome for teens who continue to abuse drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, while the overall use of illegal drugs has declined, the use of some substances has become more common, and it is unwise to downplay drug and alcohol use among teens.

Teen drug abuse statistics show the following trends for specific substances:

  • Opioid trends: There has been a decline in the use of prescription opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin since 2003. For Vicodin, the percentage of high school seniors reporting past-year use dropped from 10.5% in 2003 to 1.7% in 2018. OxyContin use among this age group declined from 4.5% in 2003 to 2.3% in 2018. Heroin use appears to be rare among high school students, as only 0.4% indicate they have used this drug in the last year.
  • Marijuana trends: While the rates of daily marijuana use have not changed among 10th-and 12th-grade students in the past decade and have decreased among 8th-graders over the same period, these statistics do not tell the entire story. In fact, from 1993 to 2018, the proportion of 12th-grade students reporting they used marijuana on a monthly basis rose from 15.5% to 22.2%. It appears that teens may be experimenting with marijuana more frequently today, or at least be more likely to use this drug casually.
  • Alcohol trends: Binge drinking rates have declined among teens over the last five years, but even so, 8.7% of 10th-graders and 13.8% of 12th-graders currently report binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting within the past two weeks.
  • Nicotine & tobacco trends: There has been a promising decrease in cigarette use among teenagers. In 2018, 7.6% of high school seniors indicated they smoke cigarettes on a monthly basis, which is a significant decline from the 36.5% reporting monthly cigarette use in 1997.

Rise in Teen Mental Health Issues

Recent declines in cigarette smoking, binge drinking, and prescription opiate misuse among teens are encouraging, but there is still a risk of substance abuse among this age group. One correlate of drug and alcohol abuse among teens is mental health issues, which unfortunately are on the rise. For example, teen mental health statistics show that in 2005, 8.7% of adolescents had experienced major depression within the last year, but this number has jumped to 11.3% in recent years.

Given the fact that teens with mental health issues may use drugs to feel better, there is a chance that the rise in mental health issues among teens can lead to more of them seeking drugs for self-medication. In addition, teens who are depressed or struggling with mental health problems may turn to drug use as a way to complete suicide via intentional overdose. In fact, the research shows that intentional drug overdose deaths have increased among young males.

Teens Are Turning to Different Substances

It is also important to note that while teens may be smoking cigarettes, binge drinking, and abusing illegal drugs less often now than in the past, they are turning to other harmful substances. Teen drug abuse statistics indicate that several substances can be problematic.

Prescription Drugs

Teen prescription drug abuse continues to be a cause for concern. The statistics show that among 12th-graders in the past year:

  • 5% have abused sedatives or tranquilizers
  • 4.6 % have abused Adderall
  • 3.4% have abused opioids

There is also evidence that the use of some prescription drugs has risen among certain age groups:

  • Among 8th-grade students, lifetime abuse of tranquilizers rose from 3.0% to 3.5% between 2015 and 2018.
  • Among 10th-graders, lifetime use of prescription drugs also increased during the same time period, from 5.8% to 6.0%.
  • The proportion of 8th-graders abusing Adderall within the last month also rose from 1.0% in 2015 to 1.8% in 2018.

Also alarming is the fact that there has been an effect of the opioid epidemic in teens. While rates of Oxycontin and Vicodin use may be on the decline, this does not mean that teens are immune to the risk of overdose death. In fact, between 1999 and 2016, there was a 94.7% increase in the number of teens dying as a result of overdoses on prescription opiates.

E-Cigarettes & Vaping

Despite declines in the use of some substances, teens are vaping now more than ever:

  • In 2017, 8.2% of 10th-graders reported vaping nicotine on a monthly basis; this rose to 16.1% in 2018.
  • Among 12th-graders, monthly nicotine vaping increased from 11.0 to 20.9%.
  • 17.6% of 8th-graders, 32.3% of 10th-graders, and 37.3% of 12th-graders report vaping over the past year as of 2018.

Addictive Substances Available at Home and School

In addition to vaping and abusing prescription drugs, teens may be turning to drugs at home that get you high. These can include products such as aerosol spray, glue, paint thinner, gasoline, and permanent markers that are inhaled to produce a high. These substances may be available in the home as well as at school, and they are easy for teens to access. Inhalant abuse is most common among 8th-graders, with 8.7% stating they have abused this type of substance in the last year.

Prevention & Treatment for Teen Substance Abuse

To reduce the risk of teen substance abuse, it is important for parents to have open communication with their teens. After all, parental monitoring and a strong bond between parent and child are important protective factors for substance abuse. Focusing on academics and helping teens to be successful at school also play a role in prevention.

Despite prevention efforts, some teens may develop addictions and present a need for treatment. If your child requires rehab, Next Generation Village provides substance abuse treatment for teens. Reach out to us today to begin the journey toward recovery; we are just a phone call away.

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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