NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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How Many Teens Actually Smoke, Drink, or Do Drugs?

Sara Bellum

How Many Teens Actually Smoke, Drink, or Do Drugs?

It’s natural to be curious about your peers—especially when it comes to things that we know can be dangerous, like alcohol and drug use. You’ve probably heard rumors of kids drinking beer at a party or may have a friend who smokes cigarettes.

You may wonder how many teens actually smoke, drink, or do drugs. It’s a question we hear frequently from teens. During NIDA’s 2011 Drug Facts Chat Day, students from the around the country asked NIDA scientists questions such as:

  • “How many teens smoke every year?”
  • “Has the number of people who abuse drugs increased or decreased in the past 5 years? And why?”
  • “What percent of teens has tried drugs?”
  • “How many kids are doing drugs?”

In December 2011, NIDA released the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, and it seems that more teens are making better decisions when it comes to smoking and alcohol use, but not so much when it comes to using marijuana and abusing prescription drugs.

Here’s a glimpse at the most recent trends in teen drug and alcohol use.

Cigarette and Alcohol Use at Historic Low

Teen smoking has declined in all three grades included in the study—grades 8, 10, and 12. Still, almost 19 percent of 12th graders reported current (past-month) cigarette use.

This decline shows that more teens realize the harm smoking does to your body and are making the decision not to start. Also, teens’ attitudes about smoking have changed. They increasingly prefer to date nonsmokers and believe smoking to be a dirty habit.

Graph modeling cigarette and marijuana use in teens.

Likewise, among nearly all grades, trends over the past 5 years showed significant decreases in alcohol use—including first-time use, occasional use, daily use, and binge drinking. As with smoking, this decline may be the result of more teens understanding the risk of drinking alcohol and disapproving of this behavior.

Marijuana Use Continues To Rise

Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana use is increasing. Among 12th graders, 36.4 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past year, up from 31.5 percent 5 years ago. This accompanies a decrease in the number of 12th graders who perceive that smoking marijuana is harmful. For example, only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent 5 years ago.

Of course, we know the risks: marijuana can affect memory, judgment, and perception, and it can harm a teen’s developing brain.

Prescription Drug Abuse Remains Steady

Prescription drug abuse hasn’t changed much since 2010. Abuse of the opioid painkiller Vicodin and the nonmedical use of Adderall and Ritalin, stimulants meant to treat ADHD, remained about the same as last year. Also, the abuse of the opioid painkiller OxyContin remained steady for the past 5 years across all 3 grades surveyed.

To drive this trend downward, NIDA recently launched PEERx, a prescription drug abuse awareness campaign that gives teens science-based information about the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse on the brain and body.

When teens understand the health risks of abusing drugs, they do it less. So, tell us, how would you convince your peers that marijuana use and prescription drug abuse are harmful?

These estimates come from the Monitoring the Future Study's national surveys of approximately 47,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. The survey was conducted in classrooms earlier this year. View all of the 2011 data.


Advices coming from your parents are very important factor to avoid this kind of habit. It's always a matter of guidance and support from your family. We have to talk to our children and discuss these issues that they may encounter. Showing them how much you really care will really help them to have a better future.

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i think that its is bad for you and why would you what to do it in the first place.
Well I smoked weed for three years every day to escape my sh*ty life, And its not the worst thing you can do, there is ALLOT worst the pot. the worst part is you lose your drive to do anything and that's not really the drug, but the people that you hang out with that smoke that much.
i agree. pot isnt that bad. cocane is bad. weed, not so much. im 17
It is BAD! It is also ILLEGAL and you could get arrested!
its not actually that bad.... if cigarettes are legal than pot should be also.
i strongly agree with you and im just a 8th grader who does not believe in smoking marijuana
You guys drive sh**** because of damned drugs! So many teens have died while driving because of drugs. I feel ashamed of our generation!
I know, right?
Maybe instead of getting high you should've gone to school and paid attention and know that a lot is two words... Not one with two L's.... In fact your sentence should be.. "Well I smoked weed for three years every day to escape my sh*tty life, And its not the worst thing you can do, there is a lot more stuff worse than pot. The worst part is you lose your drive to do anything and that's not really the drug, but the people that you hang out with that smoke that much."
do you even grammer bro
Seriously doing Drugs isn't a way of life. You are given a life for a reason and you only have one you should spend it wisely when you can. Drugs aren't for showing off and looking cool its for killing yourself so don't think about using them because they can seriously harm you and your health. Do not listen to those ppl who say drugs are cool.
english please...
that is bullsh*t
I wanna know how much teens die from smoking

@Anonymous, teens don't typically die from smoking.  The diseases caused by smoking take several years to develop.  However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is responsible for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States and on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.   

i feel like advise from parent while it is helpfully it doesnt really play a factor in weather teens smoke. not majorly at leasy
You guys are going to die soon! Smoking kills all people who smoke!
I smoke all the time and I am a teenager it makes me feel free and reckless, my family makes me depressed
Drugs kill your brain cells. I feel bad for you people who will die sooner. If your life is so stressful try doing a hobby. I enjoy drawing, it helps me release stress. When I was in high school I almost tried drugs but then they had research. You guys should be grateful that you have a warning. They didn't have that when I was a freshman.

Hi Jacob.  We're sorry this is frustrating, but we can't give an exact number.  This data comes from a survey of 47,000 students.  It's a very large sample of teens, but it's not even close to being every teen in the United States.  Those 47,000 teens are meant to help us understand what all teens think when it comes to drug use because it would be impossible to ask every single 8th, 10th, and 12th grader in the country.  So, we only have percentages to work with--not the numbers you are looking for.

i think its wrong to drink or do drugs.

Its not wrong its normal , everybody should try it and marijuana is a herb its medicine ! Use it but dont abuse it then it can be the best feeling on earth
ur crazy marijuana will make u stupider
You're * you* more stupid* Honestly, you're calling someone stupid when you can't even spell.
Guys! We're all human beings! You guys are acting like meanies!
* more stupid
it wont really make you stupid it makes you slow after being addicted to it. The drug that makes you stupid is the common one you hear more is Crack.
I support the occasional use of marijuana. If you manage your time-table effectively, you can succeed in both school and the work place while still using marijuana. Many people make poor decisions to skip or smoke at school because of their need for social interaction. Keep these separate, and you have got yourself a proper manageable life that can be lead to happiness, knowledge, and future time management skills. I am 17, getting strait A's in grade 12 high school. I am going to go to college starting next year to get my bachelor of business administration degree to become an accountant, eventually specializing in forensic procedures involving fraud, embezzlement, hidden accounts (white collar crime) etc... I am living proof that this model of time management works.
weed don't killed people you killed people when you talk about it.
People should not be drinking especially teens and adults with heart problems!!
I think your right. If more people were exposed to weed and all the other drugs were dropped weed would be and is less harmful than any other smoking. WEED IS SAFIER THAN CHEWING TOBACCO. I don't understand why everyones so uptight about it...
Peer Pressure!!!
Drugs will kill you!They send messages to your brain to keep on using it. Its very hard to stop but it is worth it if you want to save your life and the lives of your family members. Second hand smoke can and will kill you too.
OK then you go and do drugs, their ya life is over!
Okay* there* you're*
wow... okay I can see correcting the "their" but all that other stuff is just being a smartass.

its not goood and you can die very quickly from it, think before you do the actions your going to end up doing

that's only if u abuse it,im 13 and i drink and smoke yet i play sports, have good grades and still have too many friends to count

@haley So glad you are so involved in sports and school, and have many friends. At 13, it may seem like you are on top of the world. Unfortunately, smoking and drinking tend to have serious health effects over time. In thinking about continued success in school and in life, it's important to consider that your brain and body will continue to develop well into your 20s, and that cigarettes and alcohol can interfere with healthy development, learning and memory, and even how you relate to friends.

Check out some recent posts on SBB that you may find relevant:

Expectations and Alcohol: The Fun May Be in Your Head

Smoking: How It Primes the Brain for Addiction

your friends and sports are not going to help you live
your friends and sports are not going to help you live
Yeah but if u want to get better at sports and school than drinking and smoking will make affect how u perform in sports and in school. Its not only if if u abuse it its even if u do it. So what your saying is not true at all.
i agree
boy no
I am almost 13! You will get sleep apnea and have to wear a mask that looks like Darth Vader's! I hate freaking drugs! They're s***!!!
Me too but I am twelve


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