Drugs & Health Blog

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

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA, announcing the release of the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey results.
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.


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 http://teens.drugabuse.gov/facts/facts_mj1.php 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.
Marijuana is indeed a harmful drug. It causes auditory problems for your brain. Studies have shown that smoking marijuana at a young age damages your brain and keeps it from growing any further. Thats why people on here says it makes you "stupid". auditory processing is a disability, but smoking marijuana can make auditory processing a diagnosis.
Have u ever had red ribbon week?
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!
You almost sound intelligent with your research, however, you need to do more research!!! You stopped half way cause you think marijuana is cool.
That is a bold-faced lie. Marijuana doesn't kill anyone?! Ha! Add your result of zero with a million and then you'll be close to the actual truth. Marijuana does kill and not believing the fact that it kills tons of people a year is naive. I hope that one day you realize that the world isn't just rainbows and plumdrop fairies and that marijuana does kill. But let me guess, you take marijuana? Wow, not a bias argument AT ALL!
You have no proof to back up anything you just said (because its all lies.) Between 1999 and 2007, only 26 people died from marijuana as an underlying cause of death. That's 26 people out of almost 3 billion. That's 3,000,000,000. None of these people even died from overdosing. To OD on weed, you need to do the physically impossible. Smoke over 800 joints. Before you got anywhere near there, you would be vomiting and passed out. And let me guess, you DON'T take marijuana? WOW, not a bias argument AT ALL! Also, no one "takes" weed.
no one has actually die from weed , there was always an illness of trama no one seen but they blamed it on weed so they could say it kills u js
I agree with what Emma said here. The truth is that it's very difficult to kill yourself with marijuana, even if you tried. Even if you tried to overdose on marijuana, your body wouldn't let you. You would pass out before you could kill yourself. So directly, marijuana cannot kill you - unless you have it alongside other specific drugs, which we just won't get into right now. However, it can indirectly be responsible for death. Examples include lung cancer from the smoke (which can be avoided if you use a vaporizer), irrational decisions made under the influence, marijuana being a gateway drug to something that CAN kill you, spacing out while driving or operating heavy machinery, etc. Yes, marijuana is harmful, but it doesn't kill, bottom line. However, I guess it would prove fatal if you dropped a one-ton block on someone or something. That's an exception.

I hate to say this but just in our streets alone, gangs of boys smoking weed and doing drugs are a day-to-day occurrence. They aren't even afraid of the police anymore. With these kind of kids as the future of the nation, I don't know how else we can survive another decade or two...

NIDAminds, unfortunately NIDA is not a source for accurate information about drugs, especially marijuana. Their "facts" seem to be provided by the DEA, not physicians.

@phk Actually, our information comes mostly from researchers – both scientists and physicians – but we do analyze, use and share information from numerous other reliable sources as well – including the DEA.


i agree with amymullis 100%. there has been no reported deaths from just smoking marijuana. so why is it illeagl? in my opinion the should make alcohol and tobacco illeagle. this is bs how everyone is spazzing out about marijuana

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.
People eat cactus candy; which is cactus. Bad comparison.

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.


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