Most Commonly Abused Drugs By Teens

Drug use and abuse among teenagers in the United States have continued to be of high significance. Teenagers are more likely to use multiple substances in comparison to adult populations and because a teenagers’ body and brain are still in important stages of development, there can be major impacts to physical, psychological and neurological development. The reasons that teenagers use drugs can be multifaceted, with a family environment, peer pressure, and perceived lenient attitudes towards drug use all playing major roles.

As stated earlier, teenagers are more likely to use and abuse multiple substances and thus can become addicted to those substances. It is important to recognize those substances that are most commonly abused by teenagers.


Alcohol continues to be the most commonly abused drug among teenagers in the United States. According to a study done by the Century Council, nearly nine million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 have reported having consumed alcohol within the last thirty days. The same report also states that the percentage of youths who drink alcohol regularly increases as they get older with 1% drinking by age 12 up to 39% by age 20.

According to a fact sheet compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 4,700 young people die each year due because of factors related to alcohol consumption, and just over one in four teenagers that drove while under the influence of alcohol and died in car crashes had blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 or higher.


Marijuana use ranks second behind alcohol in regards to the most commonly abused drugs by teenagers. There has been an increase in marijuana use among teenagers due to the increasing societal attitudes towards tolerance and perceptions that marijuana is not a dangerous drug. In an article recently published in the Huffington Post, new government research is showing that 6.5% of teenagers surveyed in the study smoke marijuana daily, which is up from 2.4% in 1993.

This recent study also shows that about one in four teens surveyed had smoked marijuana within the last 30 days and just over one in ten teenagers aged 13-14 used marijuana within that same time period. Along with the increase in use, the potency of marijuana has also increased within the last 20 years. The effects of marijuana use are more pronounced in the mental and cognitive areas of functioning in comparison to physical domains and with the teenage brain still in critical stages of development, the cognitive and mental functioning in teenagers can be impaired well into adulthood.

Prescription drugs

It is estimated that approximately 2,500 young people in the United States aged 12-17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. In a survey conducted and published by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, one in four teens has been reported to have misused or abused prescription drugs in their lifetime. Prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are the most commonly abused drugs by teens in this category.

The increase in the non-medical use and abuse of prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall can be traced to lax attitudes by both parents and caregivers. It is estimated that one-third of parents say they believe Ritalin or Adderall, normally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can improve a teen’s academic performance even if the teen does not have ADHD. Parents are not effectively communicating the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse to their kids.

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