Underage Drug Addiction in the United States

Teenage drug addiction has become a menace in the United States. As kids advance into pre-pubescence and adolescence, teenage substance abuse is one of the issues every parent worries about. Substances severely abused by teenage addicts include alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and so many more. However, parents can play a role in curbing substance abuse in the teenage years by conferring with their pediatricians. It is enough to read information about the long-term effects of use to understand why it is so dangerous, extremely for immature bodies and mental health. Also, there is a geographic tendency. That is why it will be useful to read about the highest drug use cities to ensure that your city is safe.

Substance Abuse among Adolescents

Substance abuse by adolescents has been known to harm their physical and mental health. Teenage substance abuse has become so common that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended testing for substances abuse in kids once they reach the age of 9.

In collaboration with CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), the AAP created a guide for the implementation of substance abuse testing. This way, they can assist these medical practitioners in addressing issues about drug abuse.

Although it’s unlawful in America for people below the age of 21 to consume alcohol, reports show that individuals between 12 to 20 years consume 10% of the entire alcohol consumption in America. Some of such teenagers are kids of drug users.

Availability of Drugs for Teens

Easy accessibility to substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, etc., is a primary factor contributing to drug abuse in many teens. In a study, kids in school were questioned how easy it would be to get their hands on the drugs mentioned above in school if they wanted. The questionnaire contained responses ranging from very easy to almost impossible.

The first table revealed the percentages indicating that different substances were very easy or fairly easy to get into school. Roughly 30% of American kids from 6th grade through 12th grade indicated that substances such as marijuana and alcohol were easy to acquire in school. A lesser number of kids (20%) indicated that other substances were easy to acquire in school.

Common Reasons for Teenage Drug Addiction

Adolescents indulge in substance abuse for different reasons. The most common ones include:

  1. Peer pressure
  2. Drug experimentation
  3. Performance Enhancement
  4. To self-medicate and as an escape
  5. It makes them feel older

Peer Pressure

According to a survey carried out by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2016, it was revealed that an estimated 1.9 million teenagers between the age of 12 and 17 years have indulged in illicit drugs within one month of the survey. Most of these teens said a peer offered them these substances.

Why do some teens give in to peer pressure and abuse drugs? Because teens want to blend in and feel accepted. So they find it hard to turn down substances offered by a friend.

Drug Experimentation

Kids and teens are very curious by default, and they want to explore. So it’s no surprise that teenagers get their hands on different substances because they want to experience the sensation of getting high or intoxicated.

Performance Enhancement

Teenagers tend to feel overwhelmed by the huge pressure that comes with academic and sports activities in school. So they indulge in performance enhancers or stimulants to excel in these fields and impress their coaches, teachers, and parents.

To Self-Medicate and as An Escape

It’s not odd for symptoms of mental disorders to begin taking root in an individual during their adolescence. As a measure of coping with symptoms or indications of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, teenagers usually indulge in alcohol or other substances to curb these symptoms or to “escape”.

Makes Them Feel Older

Teenagers love having the feeling that they’re adults and they can do what adults do. So they engage in smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and other forms of substance abuse to show they are grown up.

Signs of Teenage Drug Addiction

One of the most effective ways of nipping this menace in the bud is to recognize the signs that their teen is indulging in substance abuse before they are too far gone.

Below are the following signs every parent should watch out for:

    1. Habit Alterations

Change of habits may seem normal (which is why parents tend to overlook it), and in some cases, they are (if it’s just one or two habits). However, in a case where parents notice several habit modifications, that’s a clear indication your teenager is an addict. They include:

      • Having new cravings or an increase in appetite
      • Lack of appetite
      • Complaints from their school about improper behaviors
      • Lesser grades
      • A change in social circle or friends
    1. Physical Changes

You will notice specific changes in the physical appearance of your adolescents. The changes you will spot in your teen will depend on the substance being abused. Some changes are obvious, while others are subtle. Changes you should watch out for include:

      • Redness in the eyes
      • Suspicious-looking bruises, injuries, or track marks on their arms
      • Wearing long sleeves during summer, unlike before when they adorn short sleeves
      • Redness in the cheeks
      • Dismal personal hygiene or an unkempt appearance
      • Sooted lips and/or fingers
      • Tremor or shaking
      • The odd smell on their clothes
      • Bleeding nose or a runny nose in the absence of a cold
      • Dry or chapped lips, prompting them to lick them constantly.
    1. Furtive Behaviour

People, including teens, have varying social personalities. Some are introverts and more reserved by default, while others are outgoing and extroverted in nature. So, if a parent notices that his outgoing teen has become more reserved and withdrawn, or his introverted teen becoming a total recluse, they need to pay more attention.

Watch out for the following behaviors:

      • Night outings or frequently going away for long periods
      • Regularly behind locked doors
      • Refusing to maintain eye contact
      • Skipping classes, school-related activities, or work
      • Stealing
    1. Changes in the House

Parents should watch out for both obvious and subtle signs that point to substance abuse by their adolescents. Likewise, they should follow up on any change that seems unusual and pay more attention.

Changes in the home to watch out for include:

      • Drug kits or paraphernalia such as eye drops, smoking devices, syringes, and butane lighters
      • Odd wrappers or containers
      • Unexplained dents in the car
      • The disappearance of prescription drugs, alcohol, and over-the-counter drugs

Common Substances or Drugs that Teens Abuse

Below is a list of some of the most commonly abused drugs or substances by American adolescents:

      1. Alcohol: If you’ve been asking, “what’s the number one drug used by teens?” This is it.
      2. Marijuana: This is a considerably popular drug among teens because it is easy to acquire.
      3. Cocaine: Far less easy to acquire for teens but still commonly used.
      4. Stimulants: Stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall are fairly easy to acquire and commonly used by teens to enhance performance in academics and extra-curricular activities.
      5. Prescription Drugs and Painkillers: Narcotics such as OxyContin and Vicodin are very popular among teens and fairly easy to acquire.
      6. Heroin: Teens who start out with prescription painkillers usually graduate with heroin because it’s easier and cheaper to acquire.
      7. Crystal Meth: Known to induce feelings of euphoria and induce weight loss, it’s very easy to acquire among teens.
      8. Hallucinogens: Known to induce hallucinations and very easy to acquire.
      9. Ecstasy: Very popular among teens because it’s usually manufactured like candy which makes them alluring.
      10. Inhalants: These drugs are commonly found in household products such as nail polish remover and glue.

Common Prescription Drugs Teenagers Misuse and Abuse

The following are the classes of the most commonly used prescription medications being misused or abused by adolescents:

      • Opioids: a medication for pain treatment or relief
      • CNS (Central Nervous System) Depressants: sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics typically used to treat sleeping disorders and anxiety
      • Stimulants: usually prescribed to treat ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Teenage Drug Abuse Statistics

These are the major highlights of the drug abuse statistics pertaining to teenagers in America:

      • Substance abuse among kids in 8th grade heightened by 61% between 2016 and 2020.
      • An estimated 62% of teens have indulged in alcohol abuse.
      • Alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are the most commonly abused drugs by American teenagers.
      • Roughly two-thirds of kids have consumed alcohol by 12th grade.
      • An estimated 50% of kids from 9th grade through 12th-grade report misusing marijuana.
      • From 9th grade through 12th grade, roughly 4 in every 10 kids reported smoking cigarettes.
      • Roughly 2 in every 10 kids in 12th grade reported usage of medicine without a prescription.
      • An estimated 50% of adolescents have indulged in substance or drug abuse at least once.
      • About 43% of teens in college indulge in the usage of illicit drugs.
      • Roughly 86% of adolescents are familiar with individuals who indulge in marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, or other forms of drugs during school hours.

Consequences of Teenage Drug Addiction

Several harmful consequences will arise from substance abuse. They include:

Impairment of your Immune System

Consistent substance abuse can affect various aspects of your immune system, severely weakening your body from fighting diseases. In addition, drug abuse damages the cells in one’s digestive tract, which impairs the discharge of digestive enzymes.

Furthermore, it lessens the body’s ability to absorb the necessary nutrients, and it can also impair the liver and its ability to store essential vitamins properly. It also reduces the propagation rate of the white blood cells, which weakens your body’s defense against cancer and other lethal ailments.

Other effects to the immune system include damages to the respiratory system, dehydration, and insomnia.

Poor Mental Health

Substance abuse over time affects the brain’s structure and functions. This is particularly dangerous for teens because their brain is still malleable and developing. Therefore, any alterations will have near-permanent effects. For example, it can impair logic, motor skills, and retention.

Poor Heart Health

Drug abuse can trigger arrhythmia, which is the disruption of your heartbeat. In addition, drugs such as cocaine are known to cause further thickening of the ventricle wall and further stiffening of the aorta, which can trigger complications such as stroke and heart attack.

Adolescent Drug Deaths and Treatment


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there have been a total of 4,777 deaths between people aged 15-24 due to overdosing on various drugs or substances till 2019.


Teenage addicts can be treated through teenage rehab. Rehabilitation centers often carry out a combination of treatment activities that include:

      • Detoxification: Flushing out of these drugs or substances from the system by professionals
      • Therapies: It can be inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab. The various types of therapies include family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive management, motivational interviewing, and recreational therapy
      • Medications such as Vicodin, Percocet (opioids), Adderall and Ritalin (stimulants), and mood stabilizers

The United States Juvenile Arrest Rate for Drug Abuse in 2021

Juvenile arrest rate is regarded as the number of arrests of underage persons (10-17 years old) per every 100,000 individuals. According to a 2021 publication by Statista Research Department, the national average for the juvenile arrest rate in America was estimated at 234. We recommend you read about THC detox to check does your teenager use unsafe methods.