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.


You want a reason for it being illlegal? Well here's a few: Mariguana is addictive and destroys lives There have been over 7,000 published scientific and medical studies documenting the damage that marijuana poses. Not one study has shown marijuana to be safe. Mariguana affects the brain and body in negative ways. these are just a few, you can find a whole lot more.

Save your teen from smoking because this is an addiction which can cause even death.[commercial link removed, per guidelines]

marijuana has no harmful side effects.
Get a clue.

It is really bad for you! yellow finger nails, wrinkles! urgh!!!

who would want that at so young age?!!!!

im only 12 and im already doing this xx (i dont smoke im way way against it) I DO NOT SMOKE

Tobacco and other similar lobies are simply to strong! They buy anyone who tries to really fight against it! There is not much we can do about it!
Regards from Sarajevo from [commercial link removed, per guidelines] (auto oglasi) team

Marijuana is not bad it already came of this earth the only thing bad about it is all the crime that goes on about it and that is because it is illegal if you legalize it your problems will be gone and there will be less crime. This society just makes it look bad when really people don't even know that much about it. Don't conform to anybodys standards

Just because it came from the Earth doesn't mean it's good for you. A cactus comes from the Earth, why not eat that? It can't damage your body with it's thorns! It must be good for you since it comes from the Earth. Yeah, keep following that logic and your grave will be set up soon enough.
Lol, you think you're so funny. You can eat cactus. Omg. It's not like you eat crab without removing the shell and claws.

smoking is bad as drugs. marijuana is bad it has more then 400 chemicals. yuck

smoking is bad so is drugs. marijuana is bad it has more then 400 chemicals. yuck

as cigarettes have over 4,000!

A coommon nickname for marijuana is cookies or feeding the turrtles!

@tizzlebizzle, Says an enthusiastic pot smoker.

This in definitely incorrect, the people who participated in the survey definitely lied. As a 10th grader myself I can tell you for sure that the amount of people smoking cigarettes, drinking, abusing prescription drugs or smoking marijuana is much higher. I know hundreds of people who do all of the above, if not more. I refuse to do any of these things, but a lot of my good friends to and it makes me extremely angry. These things are a huge problem and they're getting worse, not better and kids are doing them at younger and younger ages now. I got to a private school that has a good reputation but almost all of the people in the high school do every one of these things in this article. There are even middle schoolers doing these things as young as 6th grade. People find ways around the rules and have more creative ways of getting high such as weed brownies, that's probably the most inconspicuous way they do it.

You are so right I wish kids would be smarter smoking is bad don't live with it!

I predict that about one-third of all the teens either do drugs, smoke, or drink. These are really bad for your body especially if you do more than one of these at once. Each one can lead to your death. Whether its drinking and driving, increasing your chance of lung cancer by smoking, or an overdose on drugs leading to a heart attack. Nothing good comes out of doing the following above. I highly recommend that teens do not do any of these horrible things.

I don't understand why so many teens do drugs. It is an unhealthy habit and needs to be stopped. Teens don't need to have to do drugs at such a young age because it affects the way you learn. I bet tons of kids loose control due to drugs and end up ruining their life at such a young age. I'm surprised the rate of teens doing drugs isn't higher. Such a shame.

@Ella Thanks for your comment – lots of issues going on here. Most importantly, you are right to be concerned about synthetic marijuana, molly and bath salts – we know very little about them, but what we have seen so far is that they can be VERY dangerous, even deadly. Even with very small doses. Despite what some are being told, these are NOT safe alternatives to other drugs.

Now to marijuana. There is substantial evidence that marijuana can cause harm. You may have no problems that you know of now, but just like cigarette smoke, the toxic effects can build in the body and may take a long time to show up – in others, it may take less time. What kinds of effects and how soon they occur may be different for each person.

Most people who are smart want to stay smart and not introduce foreign substances into their brains. Yes, some components of marijuana have been found to have medicinal value – and there are FDA-approved medicines that are available, with more on the way. But medical marijuana is for people who are sick, such as patients with cancer or AIDS who suffer from nausea or lack of appetite. Be careful about information you get from the internet – it’s sometimes hard to know what’s true and what’s not.

@anonymuous Responsible use is important, but in teens—with brains still developing—there really is no such thing. Drinking and smoking marijuana can create negative effects that multiply with how much, how often, and how long you smoke. There are many safer and healthier alternatives that you can use to relax and unwind. You do make an interesting point – it would be very useful to have more information related to when, where and how much students are using alcohol and drugs. The Monitoring the Future survey (of 47,000 teens in 400+ schools) does report numbers for those who use alcohol or marijuana daily and those who use it monthly or yearly. But it doesn’t provide the data you mention, which would be good to know.

Where do people do drugs though? It's part of my homework to research about "Teenage Drug Abuse" so I need to know where they do drugs. ???

@Anonymous ;D Our website for teens has lots of resources that can help you with your research. See

Everybody for and against the use of marijuana should watch the movie "The Union" its very revealing on why people in our society "think" its bad. When really its completely harmless. There have been no recorded deaths from any medical institution from pot ever! I really hope that one day our society realizes that alcohol, ciggarettes and most prescription drugs should be illeagalized instead of marijuana. And to say that its addictive is wrong because people who get caught with it get the option to go " addictive clinics" or rehab, or prison, so they choose rehab which makes it seem addictive. Right now our society is corrupted and it desperately needs to change.

Thank You

There are even middle schoolers doing these things as young as 6th grade. People find ways around the rules and have more creative ways of getting high [removed, per guidelines], that’s probably the most inconspicuous way they do it. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

Okay smoking is bad, but marijuana is a WHOLE other issue. Of course it's not good but its about as bad as caffeine. I'm a senior myself and I can tell you I know more truth about weed then a lot of people because I've researched it multiple times and I'm around people who smoke weed all the time. They are not bad kids, nor do they have any significant health problems. Anything you breathe other than air damages the brain so you can say its like pollution. Compared to cigs, weed does NOT cause cancer. I actually shadowed a top oncologist and got my facts. There are absolutely no deaths from weed. So please, before you guys bad talk marijuana, do the research. People go on about how bad it is, and it really isn't. I'm not encouraging it, but I do think it's unnecessary to misguide people about this "drug" by saying how "bad" it is.

First—and sorry for the broken record—people react differently to marijuana. Some people do experience side effects or addiction. Second, true that cigarettes have definitely been shown to cause cancer, BUT the jury is out on marijuana. In fact, you may have heard of the study that just came out (Sept 2012) showing a potential link between marijuana and testicular cancer. Here's a news story that highlights the findings: "Dude, it's your junk! Pot linked to testicular cancer"

Many more studies need to be done before we can say that there definitely is a link, much less understanding other health complications, but the evidence here does make us stop and take note.

it's just pot. jeeze people get over it. i've never done pot, but i dont have a prob with it. it help pl.

pls do sunthng tht d teen age shud leave drinkng cigarette i cnt cause i am small bt if u cn do sumthng or jus help everybody vho all pple u may knw plsssss cause d teen age circle is destroyng nwadays

Marijuana does kill, because people do stupid stuff while high.

@ bbond and amymullis, first of all, i researched facts about marijuana long term usage, and the toxins in it are actually more concentrated than that of cigarettes, the only reason it's difficult to determine the effects of Marijuana is because people who smoke it usually smoke cigarettes as well. So studying the effects of pot is almost impossible due to this other variable out there. But there are many cases where an (only) pot smoking person can get cancer too because of the high concentration of carcinogens, theres no filter to reduce this unlike in cigarettes. And generally speaking people who smoke it, hold it in there lungs, deeper and longer to get the effects of the high but ultimately, its bad.

So anyone who [expletive deleted, per guidelines] says pot is not bad for you... you would think having common sense to not put any smoke would be better, regardless if it's pot, or cigarettes.

of'Course all drugs are bad but nobody sees that they think of it as a way to escape life ; RELAXATION : Nobody wants to admit that they are addicts because they think of it as a phase that comes and goes. I myself am a what you call a POTHEAD but i consider it as a way to escape all the drama all that stuff but it gets old. i dont want to be doing that all my life its just ....... LIFE.

I think drink, smoke and do drugs will harm teens so much. Let's stay away from them. That protect your life [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

drugs are bad.

drugs are horrible!!!you can easily die from many substances such as heroine or marajuana e.t.c.......

yeah............ drugs are....go-er.. baad yeah their bad

there brain will get damage and they will feel drunk when they drink to much of alochol

I have been using drugs since I was sixteen and im nineteen now I use methamphetamine , haroin, prescription pain killers, l.s.d, ecstasy, and I love it I feel great I don't feel like doing any thing which is awsome because I like to be lazy and drugs are not a sin and should not be a crime because most drug users have some tipe of job and all the addicts I know are good people so what's wrong with drugs absolutely nothing. Stop the drug war and decriminalize drugs.

If that is the case, you have been lucky - so far. Did you know that you can be lazy without taking drugs?”

yeah alochol and marajuana are so bad.

stay away from drugs they are bad for you and they can mess up your brain

hello blogger! i am doing a heath project for school and would love your help if you could just respond to this question. “do you think kids in public schools are more exposed to drugs and alcohol then kids in privet schools? thanks for the great blog

hello blogger! i am doing a heath project for school and would love your help if you could just respond to this question. “do you think kids in public schools are more exposed to drugs and alcohol then kids in privet schools? thanks for the great blog

Great question! Unfortunately, the unexciting answer is, “it depends.” There are many factors that affect the level of exposure to drugs and alcohol a student may get at school—a certain public school may have much less exposure than a particular private school. For this very reason, our main surveys don’t break down their findings by public and private schools. (Check out the Monitoring the Future Survey - for more information). There are many other useful resources and fun activities both on our Teen site: and our main NIDA site: Good luck on your project.

who has ever died from marijuana overdose. Oh wait no one. However you can make bad decisions while high that can lead to death.

Thanks. This helped me a lot. I think you should make an article about what the health risks are, though. If you have, I probably missed it.

Seems like a larger amout then it says. Most likely many teens lie because. Right now in 9th grade. I have 1 class in which almost everyones on drugs. Or like my friend who smoked and drinked last weekens when finding out his ex, who broke up with him 2 weeks ago, had been cheating during the relationship, and actually got a new bf. Or this other girl who tried pills 3 weeks ago and is hooked. Or in my pre-a.p. math class has many kids trying drugs.

Drugs are bad

Dude, half of the people who do drugs on here, just by typing, look so stupid. No grammar, no spelling, nothing. D for drugs is D for drama. It's just so stupid. You could do so much more with your life then get high.

i say kids do drugs because they see somebody else do it so they think there old enough to do it but your not thousands of teens die every year because of drugs parents arent caring enough to hang out with there kids then they start to hang with the wrong group then they see a hole new life style.

u know that stuff make u have brain loss and all type of things like bad teeth black gums man u dont whanna do that trust me dont naver do drugs kids it not goood


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