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What Drugs Are Teens Taking?

Teen substance abuse affects 1.1 million young adults, ages 12 to 17 years old, in the U.S. It is a serious health concern for healthcare providers and, especially, parents.

Teen Substance Abuse Statistics

Here are a few statistics regarding teens and substance abuse:

  • 3000 teens smoke their 1st cigarette everyday; 1/3 of them become daily smokers
  • Almost 1/3 of high school sophomores have engaged in underage drinking
  • 1/3 of high school sophomores have used marijuana
  • 1/4 of high school seniors have tried an illicit drug, other than marijuana that includes: 3% trying cocaine 8% trying Vicodin, an opiate 5% using Ecstasy 1.5% using anabolic steroids
  • 3/4 of all deaths of 10- to-24-year-olds are due to motor vehicle accidents, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide; alcohol and illicit drug use directly impact this statistic in all four fatal scenarios

Two groups, Partnership for a Drug Free America and Monitoring the Future, a University of Michigan based group, track the changing world of teen drug abuse.

What Teens Are Taking

Substance abuse, specifically for teens, includes uncontrollable cravings, use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco products, household chemicals, specifically inhalants, and drugs, prescription, over-the-counter and illicit.

There are two key facts about teen substance abuse:

The drugs that are most commonly abused drugs by teens include:

  • Tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco
  • Cannabinoids, or marijuana
  • Cold medications including chlorpheniramine and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Inhalants including gasoline and ammonia; this is called huffing
  • Depressants including barbiturates and benzodiazepines
  • Stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Narcotics like morphine, heroin, codeine, hydrocodone/acetaminophen and oxycodone
  • Hallucinogens including LSD
  • Dissociative anesthetics like ketamine
  • Club drugs like Ecstasy
  • Anabolic steroids

The easy availability and perceived social acceptance of certain drugs directly impacts their use by teens. The more available and acceptable the drug is, the more it is used and abused by teenagers.

Why Teens Turn to Drugs

It is not easy being a teenager. There are many physical, social and psychological adjustments, big and small, to make as a teen.

So, why do teens abuse drugs? There is usually a combination of factors that cause a teen to abuse drugs. A few common reasons include:

  • To fit in with friends
  • Peer pressure
  • Taking drugs makes them feel good
  • It makes them feel like an adult
  • They find it exciting to take risks and try new things, the thrill-seeker

Another interesting and common influence on a teen’s choice to use drugs is genetics. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholic than those teens whose parent is not alcoholic.

What Parents Can Do

Parental involvement is a key factor in decreasing teen drug use. When parents talk to their kids about all facets of drugs and teach them about the risks and detriments, teen drug use has been proven to decline. There is a direct correlation between the cause and effect of parent involvement.




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