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

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Sara Bellum
January 05, 2012

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.


@me Plenty of plants that come from the ground are dangerous, or even deadly.  “Natural” does not equal “safe.” Take the tobacco plant or the opium poppy, for example.

Funny how you mention tobacco and opium, as they're both more legal and more deadly than marijuana. I can go to the gas station right now, get a pack of cigarettes, and start slowly destroying the inside of my body. Why? Because if the government made it illegal, tobacco companies would go bankrupt, and naturally the well being of our country's citizens is always second to increasing the wealth of the wealthy. What a sad world.
Drinking and drugs and smoking is not good for you and I think the article was very good, and that teens should not drink of do drugs or smoke. when you smoke, it ruins your loungs and body.
marijuana does not kill brain cells just an fyi, i dont understand why people keep saying that it does. its proven that it does not. it only affects your judgment and perception for the time that you are intoxicated with marijuana. marijuana is not a drug, it is a weed. if it is sooooo bad, why are DOCTORS giving CANCER patients prescriptions to use marijuana? this is just my opinion with some knowledgeable AND TRUE facts that i have learned while watching "How to Never get Raided" by an ex NARCOTICS OFFICER who was for 8 years and has had over 800 arrests. watch it, and see if it does not change your mind. thank you for your time.
I think much more teens smoke, drink, do drugs etc etc than any one of us will ever know because in reality they will not go telling all the adults "hey yea...I do drugs "etc etc. We need to be more open with them and them with us. Mark Jacobs Director [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
Thanks for sharing this useful information [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
im so tired of everyone saying that every thing teens do is bad. YES SOME drink and yes SOME do DRUGS i dont do eaither but im getting tired of people sayings that if you do drink or do drugs your going to live a crap life and thats not true lots of people do both and live a very happy long life. and a over amount of any thing will kill you!

@sarah Actually, research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana's negative effects on learning and memory remain after the acute effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may last for many years. Research from different areas is closing in on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative effects on the structure and function of their brains. 

To your second point – the THC in marijuana is an ingredient in FDA-approved medication—taken in pill form. THC was shown in carefully controlled clinical trials to help nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome (severe weight loss) that often accompanies AIDS.  However, there is not enough scientific evidence to date for smoked marijuana to gain FDA approval.  Inhaling smoke ‡ good.

Eww >_<
marijuana has components that can help cure cancer!

@Anonymous Claims that smoked marijuana may have cancer-curing qualities have not been supported in medical research so far. THC, the active ingredient in the marijuana leaf, does have pain-relieving properties and is used in treating cancer pain, stimulating appetite, and helping with nausea—BUT treating symptoms is not the same as curing the disease.

I'd also like to add that the only reason you, being NIDA, is fighting against legalization and regulation of marijuana, is the fact that if you acknowledged any of the independent studies done on the drug's actual capacity for any kind of physiological damage, you would lose funding. It's sad, but undeniable. The same goes for the DEA. I just don't know how you can justify spreading immensely exaggerated propaganda about something to a largely ignorant society simply so you can make a little more money.

@Vince NIDA is a scientific institute that does not involve itself in questions of drug policy or legality, so we have no say in questions of marijuana legalization. And as a government agency, there is no profit motive influencing our messaging. Our scientific mission is to study the harmful effects of drugs and addiction, and the fact is simply that ample research over many years has supported the negative cognitive and health impact of marijuana in young users, contrary to what the drug’s many advocates would like you to believe.

@Anonymous Marijauna sucks! All drugs do, i have no idea why people do it. I have to do research for my English class about Drug Abuse and i have learned so much especially about marijauna, alcohol, heroine...etc. I want to thank this website for trying to get teens away from these kinds of things for a wonderful future. I'm only thirteen and feel like i have everything ahead of me cause i decided to not do drugs.
@Anonymous Marijauna sucks! All drugs do, i have no idea why people do it. I have to do research for my English class about Drug Abuse and i have learned so much especially about marijauna, alcohol, heroine...etc. I want to thank this website for trying to get teens away from these kinds of things for a wonderful future. I'm only thirteen and feel like i have everything ahead of me cause i decided to not do drugs.
It's not just pot Baykay, it can killyou. Like permanently.
It is just pot. Who has it ever killed? I think you might be talking about another drug. No pot ever killed anyone. The only danger it poses is, if it were laced. But, that wouldn't be a problem if ti were legalized, regulated and kept under control by the government.

@Emma, marijuana might not kill you, but it does affect your brain function.  It can affect  your ability to complete difficult and complex tasks and prevent you from performing your best on academic and athletic tasks.  Learn more:

good thought
As a fellow teen, I can safely say that there are two kinds of teenagers: those who party, and those who don't. And each thinks the other is a loser. However, many and more associate alcohol and smoking with parties; marijuana is also considered a nasty habit (in my area), but it is also considered as a normal thing that teenagers do (and I'm not quite sure if that's necessarily a good thing). What I'm trying to say is that teenagers are taking a relatively relaxed viewpoint on marijuana because of its effective use as a medicinal drug, as well as the reasoning of its legalization. I live far enough from the US/Mexican border to not be affected by the cartel drug wars, but close enough to see the effects it has. And increasingly, many of the teens I converse with think that if marijuana were to be presented in a much more positive light and legalized in an effective and efficient way, as well as showcased to the public as a drug that helps more than it hurts, many of the nation's current problems with the plant (drug wars, overcrowded prisons, debate over medicinal marijuana) would be solved, not to mention that the US would have a new tax crop as well. TLDR; if media says marijuana is bad, the public believes it's bad. Teens think it should be legal because it would stop the overcrowding of prisons and hinder the drug wars on the Mexican border. Also, gov would get more $$$ if it was legal
I'm sixteen. I drink on occasion, smoke tobacco/cigarettes from time to time, and smoke a good amount of weed. Yeah, this stuff isn't great for me, but I am fully aware of every adverse affect it can have on me. I believe I am educated and responsible enough to make my own decisions and take care of myself. I am not stupid. I have a brain, and I know how to use it. I'm graduating a year early at the top of my class. I'm applied to top tier schools. I have a job, I participate in clubs and and I am an avid snowboarder. I just wanted to say that...seeing all the comments here truly...insulting people like me. I think it's great that less and less people are choosing to smoke and drink, but, it'd be nice if people were not so aggressive toward those who chose to do so. (Unless they are just being plain stupid.) I just want to enjoy myself and live a little. If this is how I chose to do it, please don't reprimand me. If I make decisions I will regret in the future, so be it. I'm aware of what I am doing. The point is, I'm happy, and I'm not hurting anyone (aside from myself...and really only with the cigarettes, haha,) so please don't just hate on me for that.

@Emma, it's not just the cigarettes that are harming your health.  Marijuana is harmful too.  People who abuse marijuana are at risk of injuring their lungs through exposure to respiratory irritants found in marijuana smoke.  Marijuana also harms you brain, your mental health, and can be addcitive.   

When I read the comments here the pro-marijuana comments are articulate, well formulated arguements that coherently express opinion. The anti-marijuana comments just sound like regurgitated information seen at the age of 10 in a school assembly video. The drug problems you Americans need to worry about the most are the addictions of American adults to prescription medicines such as SSRIs and benzodiazapines which are legal because of the huge contribution to your economy through pharmaceutical companies. I study cannabinoids at university, they cannot lower your IQ or damage receptors in your brain.

Hi TJ.  We'll have to agree to disagree about the harmful affects of marijuana.  However, we do agree that prescription drug abuse is dangerous and we're addressing that problem with our PEERx campaign.  You can learn more about prescription drug abuse by reading Prescription Drugs Drug Facts.

The US could learn from us here in Britain and Europe that fair representation of evidence from both sides is a much better way to educate children about drugs and alcohol because it allows them to think about what they are being told and make the decision by themselves. Scare mongering tactics used in the US only make people ignorant and closed minded.

TJ, we agree.  We try not to use scare tactics at NIDA.  Research shows that scare tactic have mixed results when used in health messages for teens.  You can read more about NIDA's stance on scare tactics on our post Scare Tactics: Does Fear Influence Your Opinion About Drug Abuse?

Marijuana has benefits. Like all medications, it isnt for everyone and is intended to be controlled. Although getting really high is fun. Indica, a strain of marijuana is very heavy in chemicals that put you to sleep or relax the nerves. Your brain releases cannabinoids, a chemical compound that relaxes you or makes you happy. Cannabis or medical marijuana is potent in both THC and CBD. When you smoke or vaporize the medicine it adds to your emotions. Again, like all medicines it should be regulated, accounted for and therefor you should be responsible enough to keep your mind sharp, observe nature or read a book. The perception through marijuana is a beautiful thing and many of today's prodigies consume the plant. So before you blindly follow the government, research for yourself. Its pretty hard to test and research a medicine that is outlawed from some straight edge wierdo from the last century. In Jamestown Virginia, it was a LAW TO GROW MARIJUANA FOR ITS MEDICINAL VALUE AND HEMP. Hemp is one of the finest materials on earth. Its organic and is stronger than steel. If you really want a good comparison, think about it. COCAINE AND HEROIN were pharmaceuticals, BUT they were RESEARCHED and were found out to be useless harmful drugs, marijuana is a beautiful on going plant that will never stop. It can cure cancer!

@Your best friend, a lot of research is being done to determine the value of medical marijuana, but it is difficult to study because each plant is very different.  Each plant, or strain, can have different chemicals at differing strengths which react differently in the human brain and body.  Researching something like this takes time.  To learn more, read Medical Marijuana: It's Complicated.  And for the record, research does NOT support marijuana as a cure for cancer.

why do people do drugs

@cece love, People do drugs for many reasons.   People take drugs to feel good, forget about their problems, perform better, or to fit in.  While drugs may have these effects at first, they don't last.  Eventually the negative consequences take over, like addiction and damage to the brain and body.

People should not drink or do drugs because it is a life and death situation and my birth parents did drugs when i was in my mamas stomach and until i was 8 years old then my older brother called the cops and we were taken away from them and i don't know where my parents are till this day and i'm only 17 years old!


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