Home / Drug Use / Teen drug use

Teen drug use

Experimentation with drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers usually do not connect their actions of today with the consequences of tomorrow.  They have a tendency to feel indestructible and protected from the problems that some may experience when using drugs.

Teenagers abuse a variety of drugs, both legal and illegal. Some of the most commonly used drugs include:

How often do teens use drugs?

  • According to the University of Michigan News and Information Services in 2004, nearly half of the high school seniors surveyed had used alcohol in the last month (prior to the question) and 1 in 5 seniors had used marijuana during the same time period.
  • The good news though is that according to the National Institute on Drug Abuses 32nd annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) 2006 survey, which includes almost 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students in about 400 public and private schools, there has been an approximate 23% decline from 2001 to 2006 in any illicit drug use in the past month (from the time the question was asked) by all students combined.

That is significant progress; however, there are areas of concern:

  1. Nonmedical use of prescription pain killers: A main area of concern is the continued high rates of nonmedical use of prescription pain killers (i.e., Vicodin and OxyContin) in each grade.
  • In 2005-2006, nonmedical use of Vicodin and OxyContin within the past year was reported by 9.7% and 4.3% of 12th grade students, respectively.
  • Despite a drop from 2005-2006 in past-year use of OxyContin in 12th graders from 5.5% to 4.3%, there has been no such decline among the 8th (2.6%) and 10th grade students (3.8%).
  • Vicodin use is even higher than OxyContin use and all three grades had a higher rate in past-year use in 2006 when compared to 2005: 8th graders (3%), 10th graders (7%) and 12th graders (9.7%).
  • For teens, prescription and over-the-counter medications may have appeal for a number of reasons. They are easily accessible. They are perceived as safe when compared with street drugs. They are legal, doctor-prescribed and FDA-approved.

2.   Sedatives/barbiturates (sleeping pills): Also of concern is the increase in the use of sedatives/barbiturates (sleeping pills) among 12th graders since 2001.

3.   Inhalants: Between 2002 and 2005 lifetime and past year use of inhalants increased among 8th graders. In 2006, however, 8th and 12th grades showed no further increase — only 10th grade showed a 0.5 percentage point rise. But there is still concern ahead because of the continuing decline in “perceived risk” (the proportion of students seeing this class of drugs as dangerous) has been decreasing steadily in the lower grades for the past five years.

For more details, click on inhalant abuse.

4.   Over-the counter cough or cold medications: In 2006, the Monitoring the Future survey included a new question on the use of over-the-counter cough or cold medicines for the explicit purpose of getting high. The drugs in these classes that are abused usually contain dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, which can cause alterations of consciousness and mood when taken in high doses. Street names for these drugs include “DXM,” “Dex,” and “skittles.” The proportions of students reporting having used these drugs during the prior year for the purpose of getting high were 4%, 5%, and 7% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively.

For more details, click on cough and cold medication abuse

Details from this survey can be found at 

How available are drugs to teens?

  • In 2003, 29% of all students in grades 9 through 12 reported someone had offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property.
  • This was an increase from 1993 when 24% of such students reported that illegal drugs were available to them on school property.
  • According to the University of Michigan News and Information Services in 2004, 86% and 48% of high school seniors reported they could obtain marijuana and cocaine fairly easily or very easily, respectfully.

How can I tell if my child is using drugs, including alcohol?

There are many signs that may clue a parent in that their child may be using drugs. Some may be noticeable at home, others at school. Some may be emotional signs, others physical. The following is a partial list of these signs:

  • loss of interest in family activities
  • disrespect for family rules
  • withdrawal from responsibilities
  • verbally or physically abusive
  • sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • disappearance of valuable items or money
  • not coming home on time
  • not telling you where they are going
  • constant excuses for behavior
  • spending a lot of time in their rooms
  • lies about activities
  • sudden drop in grades
  • loss of interest in learning, skipping school
  • sleeping in class
  • poor work or homework performance
  • defiant of authority
  • poor attitude towards sports or other extracurricular activities
  • reduced memory and attention span
  • change in choice of friends
  • smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body
  • unexplainable mood swings and behavior
  • argumentative, paranoid or confused, destructive, anxious
  • over-reacts to criticism
  • acts rebellious
  • change in dress, appearance, and grooming
  • change in eating and sleeping patterns
  • sharing few if any of their personal problems
  • doesnt seem as happy as they used to be
  • overly tired or hyperactive
  • weight loss or gain
  • unhappy and depressed
  • cheats, steals
  • always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money

What is the best way to approach my child if I suspect that they are using drugs?

  • If your child is using drugs, they need your help. Effective communication is critical to resolving the problem and helping your child get back on their feet.
  • It is important to be firm on the matter but in order to keep the lines of communication open, your child will need to feel loved and supported.
  • Avoid putting your child on the defensive, which can shut down the lines of communication.
  • Dont hesitate to seek professional help, such as your pediatrician, a counselor, support group, or treatment program.

What can I do to help prevent my child from using drugs?

The following are 20 useful tips:

  1. Provide guidance and clear rules about not using drugs – it is best to have a conversation, not give a lecture.
  2. Know the facts about how drugs can harm your child and learn the signs of drug use.
  3. Join your child in learning all you can about preventing drug abuse. Programs offered in schools, churches, and youth groups can help you both learn more.
  4. Talk about things that are important issues for your childand encourage your child to share questions and concerns about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
  5. Give your child a sense of confidence. This is the best defense against peer pressure.
    If you need to correct your child, criticize the action, not your child.
  6. Be there for your teen when he needs to get out of a bad situation.
    Pick up your teen without repercussions if he finds the party he’s gone too has drugs available or her date has been drinking.
  7. Listen to what your child says. Pay attention, and be helpful during periods of loneliness or doubt.
  8. Set clear expectations for your child’s behavior and practice consistent discipline.
  9. Help your child develop strong values. Talk about your family values and explain that these are the standards for your family, no matter what other families might decide. Establish family beliefs that there are other healthier ways to enjoy life and fix problems.
  10. Take seriously any concerns you have about your childs possible drug use.
  11. Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents.
    Work with other parents to build a drug-free environment for children. When parents join together against drug use, they are much more effective than when they act alone.
  12. Stay connected with your child’s schedule and encourage healthy, creative activities, particularly in the after school hours to reduce boredom and excess free time.
  13. Ask questions when your teen makes plans to go out.
    Who will they be with, where are they going, what will they be doing, etc.
  14. Be a good role model. Your actions speak louder than words.
  15. Help your child deal with peer pressure and acceptance. Discuss the importance of being an individual and the meaning of real friendships. Help your child to understand that he does not have to do something wrong just to feel accepted. Remind your child that a real friend wont care if he does not use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
  16. Connect with your teen by doing things together as a family.
    Studies have shown that kids who enjoy dinner together with their parents on a normal basis are less likely to become involved with drugs.
  17. Keep all prescription medication hidden: Parents and family members whose homes teens visit should keep prescription medications out of teens reach, rather than in the medicine cabinet.
  18. Talk to your teen and warn them that taking prescription medications without a doctor’s supervision can be just as dangerous and as potentially lethal as taking illicit drugs.
  19. Take an inventory of prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home. Pay attention to quantities.
  20. Talk to your pediatrician
    If talking with your teenager about drugs and alcohol is difficult, your pediatrician may be able to help open the lines of communication. If you suspect your child is using alcohol or any other drug, ask your pediatrician for advice and help.


Fact sheets and information on specific drugs for teens and adults
The Partnership for a Drug-free America
American Council for Drug Education
National Children’s Coalition
Alcohol and other drug information for teens
This is a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics.
(888) 4AL-ANON