Teen Drug and Alcohol Facts


Started in 2010 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the purpose of Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is to challenge the myths about drug and alcohol use that teenagers take in from the media and their peers. Every day, teens absorb messages on the Internet, social media, music, movies, and television that portray the use of drugs or alcohol as cool and fun. They may also face intense peer pressure to fit in by getting high or drunk with their friends.

During the awareness campaign, NIDA connects students with scientists and other drug and alcohol experts. It presents information from a scientific viewpoint so teenagers can understand what it really means to use these substances. In 2016, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) joined forces with NIDA to promote Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. Both organizations fall under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health.

NIDA and NIAAA promote a theme of Shatter the Myths with this annual awareness campaign. The organizations offer several resources for teachers on a website devoted to Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. You can click here to learn more or request resources. The groups also encourage parents to learn what their teenager’s school is doing this year for the campaign and to discuss each topic in more detail at home. Most importantly, parents should set a good example by not abusing drugs or alcohol themselves.

Statistics on Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse

It’s easy to understand the need for Drug and Alcohol Facts Week when you consider the statistics on teenage drug and alcohol abuse provided by the organization Do Something. Here are several facts parents and teachers should know about drug use alone:

  • More teenagers die from taking an accidental or intentional overdose of prescription drugs than they do from heroin and cocaine combined.
  • At rates of 23 percent and 16 percent, more high school seniors smoke marijuana than cigarettes.
  • Sixty percent of teenagers who abuse prescription medications get or steal them from family or friends.
  • In a recent survey by Do Something, 60 percent of teenage respondents reported that they didn’t consider marijuana a harmful drug. However, the THC contained in marijuana today has increased five-fold in strength from 20 years ago. THC is the active ingredient that causes people to become addicted.
  • Nearly 55 percent of high school seniors don’t feel that using steroids will harm them. This is the lowest percentage since the National Institute on Drug Abuse began asking teenagers about their perception of steroids in 1980.
  • Approximately half of the high school seniors don’t see the harm in trying cocaine or crack one time and 40 percent feel the same way about heroin.
  • By as early as eighth grade, 30 percent of teenagers have tried alcohol and 16 percent have smoked marijuana.
  • Almost seven percent of high school seniors smoke marijuana every day and 40 percent in this age group don’t view regular use as harmful.
  • Although the legal drinking age is 21 in all 50 states, teenagers seem to have no problem obtaining alcohol. Here are some important statistics that anyone concerned with teenage drinking should know:
  • Between 8th and 12th grade, the number of teens who have tried alcohol jumps from 30 to 71 percent.
  • Nearly one-quarter of high school seniors reported in the Do Something survey that they have recently engaged in binge drinking. This means that they consumed five or more drinks in a short time.
  • Eight percent of high school students admitted to driving after drinking and 24 percent admitted to riding with someone who had been drinking.
  • Boys try alcohol for the first time at age 11 on average while girls start experimenting at age 13.
  • People under the legal drinking age consume 11 percent of all alcoholic beverages in the United States.
  • Teenagers who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop an addiction than people who start as adults.
  • Alcohol contributes to the top three causes of death for people in the 15 to 24-year-old age group. These include car accidents, suicide, and homicide.

What Can Parents Do to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

Communication, being a positive role model, and clearly defining expectations about abstaining from alcohol and drugs are essential to help prevent abuse. Strong family bonds and support mean a lot to teenagers, even if they’re unlikely to admit that to their friends. As a parent, it’s important to talk to your teenager often about how you feel about drugs and alcohol as well as explain what they do to the body. It’s also crucial to know who your teen hangs out with and to always know his or her location.

Once your teenager understands how you feel about these issues, consider creating a contract that states the consequences for breaking a rule regarding drug or alcohol use. Be sure to praise your child’s good choices and encourage healthy activities such as after-school sports or volunteering in the community.

Western Maryland Health System (WMHS) also encourages parents to educate themselves about drugs, including the names, the types of behavior they produce, and how they can tell if their teen has been abusing them. While you hope that you won’t ever have to act on this knowledge, it’s better to know about the youth drug and drinking culture rather than feel blindsided if your teen abuses drugs or alcohol later.

Seek Immediate Help if You Suspect Your Teen is Using

It’s not easy to see that your teenager is abusing drugs, but denying it will only make the problem escalate. Please reach out to your child’s doctor or ask for a referral to an addiction counselor in the WMHS system to get your teenager the help that he or she needs.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.