Teens and drugs by the numbers

Wish you knew what to worry about? We've sifted through the scary stats to get the lowdown on trends in youth drug abuse. Here's what you need to know to help your child.

By Lauren Shanley

Drug use among teens today

48.2 — Percent of high school seniors nationwide who report trying an illicit drug

It’s no news that most of today’s tweens and teens are exposed to drug culture in all its depraved stupidity. They hear about drugs in school hallways; they may have access to drugs at parties, and even if they don’t partake themselves, they probably know someone who does. If nothing else, most teens get exposed to drug use from ubiquitous media coverage of drunken starlets and addicted rockers. What you might not know is that in certain respects, today’s tweens and teens are less likely to imbibe, inhale, and sniff intoxicants than their recent predecessors. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's annual “Monitoring the Future” study, alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine use among all age groups is declining.

But there’s bad news, too: Some drugs are gaining in popularity among youth, along with fewer kids considering certain drugs dangerous. These startling stats will give you a better sense of what kids are being exposed to and how you can help educate your child on the risks.

Photo credit: Suz75

Common household inhalants

3 in 20 — 8th graders have reportedly tried an inhalant

Although sniffing is on the decline, its continued prevalence — especially among younger teens — is unsettling, especially given the fact that many of these toxins are garden-variety cleaners, glues, and building products. According to NIDA’s latest stats, eighth graders were the group that huffed the most. Equally alarming, only a third of all eighth graders saw trying an inhalant once as dangerous. Despite this misconception, even one use of an inhalant can cause a "sudden sniffing death" from an otherwise healthy young person. Other negative health and wellness effects include hearing loss and brain damage. Not surprisingly, only 7 percent of students who reported trying an inhalant earned mostly As in school.


The spread of marijuana

1 in 5 — High school seniors have used marijuana in the past month.

Behind alcohol, marijuana use has recently replaced cigarette smoking as the drug most used among young people. What’s more, fewer high schoolers perceive smoking marijuana as having harmful effects on their health, though researchers report that marijuana carries more risks to growing brains. Compared to 25 years ago, the levels of the psychoactive ingredient (THC) in marijuana have doubled. THC's adverse effects include suppressing cells that are important in learning and memory. Almost half of those who reported current marijuana use said their grades were mostly Ds or Fs, and about one in 16 high school seniors uses marijuana daily.


Prescription drug use

1 in 12 — High school seniors have gotten high off Vicodin in the past year.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise for all age groups. These drugs are easily accessible to students as well: While they are most often stolen from a friend or family member, online pharmacies increasingly make it easier to obtain the drugs without a legitimate prescription.

Photo credit: KaCey97007

Ecstasy on the rise

1 in 14 — High school seniors report experimenting with ecstasy (MDMA).

Although 43 percent of teenagers who use ecstasy eventually become addicted to it, only half of all high school seniors saw trying it once as harmful to their health. What’s more, ecstasy use is on the rise among the youngest group — 8th graders — and registers the largest increase in usage across any age group with any group of drugs in the past year. Ecstasy (MDMA) carries both physical and academic risks. It can produce confusion, depression, sleep problems, or severe anxiety. And only eight percent of those who've ever tried ecstasy reported earning mostly As or Bs in school.

 Photo credit: Monique Renne

Smokeless tobacco

2.5 — Percent increase in 10th graders who reported trying smokeless tobacco

Close to one in every 13 tenth graders reported chewing tobacco within the last month. Many reports blame the increase on tobacco companies pumping up their marketing to a younger audience: Expenditures on youth magazine advertisements have increased 161 percent in the past year. In addition to most users becoming addicted to the drug, chewing tobacco can have longer-lasting effects, such as compulsive drug seeking and mouth cancer.

Photo credit: ro_sab