NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
Find NIDA for Teens on: NIDAnews on Twitter NIDANIH on YouTube Facebook NIDA-NIH on Flickr Sara Bellum Blog RSS
Drugs & Health Blog

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.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


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.
I agree 1,000,000,000%

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
ur 13 and ALREADY doing dat? get ur life straight u should be ashamed i am ur age and doing just fine without drugs and booze and all that other stuff!
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
You guys are going to spend time in jail! For now on...I will demolish drugs! With me?!
I agree. I think it all depends on the person. they make the decision to do drugs, its not that all teenagers do drugs.
last time i checked, "slavery, terrorism, racism, and genocide" had nothing to do with this. Overreact much??

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?

[name, Web site removed, per guidelines]

@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

[commercial link removed, per guidelines]

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.   


Add new comment