Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Teen Drug Addiction Statistics

Studying the statistics on teen drug addiction can be overwhelming for parents. The scope of Monitoring the Future Survey, a nationwide research project that tracks substance abuse among teens, reports that binge drinking has declined considerably among teens since 1980. In that year, 41 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking; by 2010, that number had decreased to 23 percent.

Trends in teenage substance abuse change over time, but the fundamentals of adolescent behavior tend to stay the same. Teens love to take risks, assert their independence, and experiment with new activities; at the same time, their judgment and decision-making abilities are still developing. All of these teenage traits add up to a higher risk of drug abuse and addiction.

How Many Teens Are Using Drugs?

Like any other form of information, statistics can be analyzed and interpreted in different ways. You can’t assume that the numbers reflect the reality of your own family. On the other hand, it’s unsafe to assume that your teen isn’t experimenting with drugs just because he doesn’t fit a statistical profile.

The Office of Adolescent Health reports that approximately 50 percent of teens have used illegal drugs on at least one occasion by the time they reach their senior year of high school. But teens don’t need to seek drugs on the streets; many of the most commonly abused substances, including prescription medications, alcohol and chemical inhalants, can be found in the home.

What Are the Most Commonly Used Drugs?

Out of all the drugs abused by teens, alcohol still tops the list. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that over 10 million Americans ages 12 to 20 drank more than one or two sips of an alcoholic beverage. Fifty percent of teenagers have had at least one alcoholic drink by age 15, and 70 percent have had one or more drinks by age 18.

Marijuana and tobacco are the next two most commonly abused drugs among young people. Results from the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey show that teens perceive marijuana as a low-risk drug. In fact, 3.3 percent of 10th graders and 6.1 percent of high school seniors reported that they use marijuana every day.

Prescription drug abuse has become increasingly widespread among teens. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 15 percent of 12th graders admitted to using a prescription drug for recreational reasons in 2013. Some of the most popular medications of abuse include:

  • Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin
  • Psychotherapeutic tranquilizers like Ativan, Xanax and Ambien
  • Opioid pain medications like Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin
  • Over-the-counter drugs like dextromethorpan, an ingredient in cough syrup

How Many Teens Are Getting Treatment?

Statistics show that while some teens are getting help for drug addiction, many are still going untreated, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In 2012, approximately 23 million Americans ages 12 and older needed treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, but only 4 million people in this age group actually received the help they needed.

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