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
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

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.
* 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.
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!!!
OK then you go and do drugs, their ya life is over!
Okay* there* you're*

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.
boy no
Would you people shut up? Not all teenagers drink or smoke, probably most of them admitting to it on here are 30+. Keep dragging these stereotypes to the surface and people are going to just believe them. I did not once drink illegally in my life, and very few of my friends did either. But of course, absolutely every teenager must drink, right? You people are a bunch of narrow-minded, idiotic morons who refuse to see reality because you might have to change your own comfortable beliefs. Congratulations, you've joined the great minds of those who believe in slavery, terrorism, racism, and genocide.
Well I am not sure who you were friends with but in my school which is a very good school EVERYBODY drinks and like half do drugs.
Drugs shouldn't be abused because you can die or get hurt

This is a sad news. :( "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." is a joke?

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@Catalina Sima No joke. Visit the PEERx site at and discover for yourself.

i think this is a very good article and i think that the amount of teens that do smoke, drink, or do drugs has increased. you hear kids walking through the hall way talking about the party or how they dont remember what happened because they were to wasted or high to remember. in my opinion all three of those things are very bad for you.

Smoking is definitely a dirty habbit, it is wonder why people actually take this habbit in the first place and the rise in marjiuana usage is undescribable

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Maybe Cannabis use is rising because people are more educated than you. You probally complain the government lies to your face, but when they tell blatant lies about hemp since the 30s you believe it. It's pretty obvious it's safe... There are no deaths related to it at all and also countless scientific studies on it proving its safe. It's impossible to find a legit study showing its bad. Cannabis is safer than the foods you eat Dave. Obesity kills more people than drugs do, and that's including cigarettes.

smoking is not good for the human body.

Smoking is a bad habit and when teens got that habit it becomes worst for them. Save your teen from smoking because this is an addiction which can cause even death. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

Drags addiction is one of the social problem nowadays . I think it is same as to kill him\her by him\her self.I suggest all classes people to avoid this bad habit.

English man, you need to learn it. If you can't form a sentence then maybe you shouldn't be talking about how anti drug you are. Opinions from an uneducated mess are worthless.

marijuana isn't bad.
take a look at the facts:
Annual deaths from:
Tobacco: 435,000.
poor diet/exercise: 365,000
alcohol: 85,000
prescription drugs: 32,000
vehicle crashes: 26,347
homicide: 20,308
aspirin: 7,600
peanuts: 10.
marijuana: 0.
it's safer than peanuts!

As for it making your brain slow and killing brain cells, when I smoke, I feel that I can think better than when I'm not high.
Why is alcohol legal when it kills people, and destroys families? Marijuana isn't harmful at all.
The only reason people think that it's bad is because society makes it look bad.

@amymullis Marijuana does have several known harmful effects. Please visit for more information

you are actually the second person i know to ever say something like this. I have a friend who does drugs and tells me the same thing, when in actuality drugs are a really bad thing. Not trying to be offensive in anyway, but by hearing that it makes me certain that things like that actually do kill brain cells. Whether it's a fact people like to hear or not, all kinds of drugs have a negative effect on you (some more than others), including the fact that some of them are only supposed to be used for medical reasons anyways. I didn't just come here to post my personal information or anything, but I am a high school student and feel like i know way too many people who do drugs.
I can surely say that I don't agree with you and I hope we can both agree to disagree. Firstly, I am 15 year old boy and I admit to occasionally smoking marijuana; key word occasionally. The first point that you brought up that I'd like to disagree with is the fact that you think it kills brain cells. This is a remarkably immature and biased thing to say seeing as I, an occasional marijuana smoker, can have a 3.8 GPA, make honour role ever since I got into high-school, play French horn and Trumpet in both symphonic band AND jazz band, be able to maintain healthy relationships with my friends and family and have a part time job 4 days a week. By the way, people only think it kills brain cells because a long time ago scientists held an experiment where they were pumping monkeys full of marijuana smoke for long periods of time with no break in between. This is no way mimics the actual act of smoking marijuana. Any smoke being continuously pumped into a living creature is going to kill brain cells whether it be from a camp fire, a cigarette, or a joint. If you are stupid before you start using marijuana, you will be stupid after using marijuana. If you're an intelligent person before using marijuana, you will be an intelligent person after using marijuana. It all depends on the person and in no way can be determined by the substance. So no, it certainly does NOT kill brain cells.
Recent studies have shown marijuana to actually damage receptors in the brain. Stuides have shown minors who start smoking before the age of 16 have notoriously lower IQ, worse test taking skills, and less social skills. Also, tests have shown minors who began smoking marijuana before the age of 16 typicall show less reaction in the frontal lobe of the brain, even when not affected by any kind of "high" Although your case is how it is, does not speak for the entire world.
thank you! people act like marijuana is so bad.... its not at all cigerattes and alcohol are way worse and there both legal
Thank you! As a regular 16 year old pot smoker, I'd like to reinforce the fact that, just because I smoke, doesn't mean I'm an idiot. It doesn't mean I'm scum. Now to back up my point, I will brag about myself;) I have a 4.0 I've skipped a grade of high school (yes, while consistently smoking) I am a double black diamond trail snowboarder I have won scholarships I've applied to 9 prestigious college and universities (waiting to hear back in April, fingers crossed!) I have won numerous awards in and outside of school I've had three jobs I speak french, (I learned that on my own time, thank you very much) I am not a failure. I'm just enjoying myself.

@Emma, congratulations on all of your achievements.  Pretty impressive.  But, the fact that you are doing so well does not prove the using marijuana is okay.  Using marijuana is harmful to your brain and body.  It can actually lower your IQ!  The teen brain is still growing and maturing. Marijuana can interrupt those processes and cause permanent damage.   

So, I totally responded to this...I wonder what happened to my comment? I'll try again. Thank you for your compliment. :) So, pot can lower my IQ?! Oh my gosh! And what's this!? By a WHOPPING 8 PTS!!! Over the course of my WHOLE LIFE!! Oh my gosh!! I am 8 IQ points dumber then I was before I started having fun with weed, oh no!!! That's terrible! I knew it though! I knew if I hadn't started smoking pot, I would have gotten a 200 on my IQ test...instead of a measly 192 :/ What a shame. I was so close to genius. I wonder what else marijuana has ruined for me...
As a 19-year-old who has previously smoked marijuana before, I feel the need to share some of my experiences with you. You may not realize that marijuana can be harmful. It doesn't make you dumb or stupid, and it certainly doesn't make you scum or a failure in any way, but it does affect your body, even though you may not realize now. By the time you do, it's too late. Marijuana is far from a 'harmless' drug, and it's particularly damaging to your brain, especially if since you're still 16 and your brain is still developing. Regular use of marijuana, and by that I mean smoking on a daily basis and even multiple times per day, like I did, will cause disordered thinking, memory problems, depression and serious mental illnesses. The seriousness depends on when you first started smoking, and the amount of it that you smoke. Heavy use can cause panic attacks, severe depression, paranoia and psychotic episodes. Sometimes, if you're just starting to smoke or you're not smoking too much every day, then these symptoms will come and go, and they won't last long. You won't realize them, but your body does get harmed from them happening, and so does your brain - big time. As time goes by, these will get worse and worse. Sure, you may have a 4.0 average now, but when the harmfulness really starts to kick in, you'll see the effects pretty soon. An occasional puff is okay, but it's best not to smoke it unless you really, really need it. Once you realize how harmful it is, it would be practically impossible to stop. Some people become psychologically dependent and some become physically addicted, despite what was once thought about marijuana. Different people will always have different views, and I do not expect you to listen to me fully. I understand exactly how you feel - that's it's okay, that everything is perfectly under control. But trust me, while your brain is trying its best to convince you into thinking that, nothing can cover up the fact that your body is crying out for help. And yes, I know how painful it can be when you're trying so hard not to smoke, so I can empathize in you completely, if that makes you feel any better. Many of us have gone through what you have, and we are only trying to help, not to tell you that you are a failure, which you are definitely not. And I just thought that I would add this - from your description, you sound like you will have a highly successful life - that is, if you cut down on the amount of marijuana you smoke. Trust me, life is not a game. If you don't like what you did, you can't go back and do it again. I don't do snowboarding, but I do skiing, which is quite similar to snowboarding, but not quite the same. By the time you are in your late 20s, you will possibly find that your body is getting weaker than it used to be, and you may even find your abilities detereorating. However, if you cut down now, even a tiny, tiny amount at a time, it will make a difference, and your life will be better than it would have been if you continued to smoke a huge amount every day. I do not want to force my ideas upon you or anyone else. Surely, if you really want to smoke and there's no way whatsoever that can convince you into stopping (which means you have become either psychologically depent or physically addicted), there is nothing anyone can do. It all depends on YOU. Thank you, I hope you get my message I am trying to convey here.
my cousin is proof that marijuana is bad, he started in 9th grade and now as an adult with two young kids he has a low paying job, rarely gets to see his kids, and has a low I.Q. score!


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