Adolescent drug use in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Drug use remains a significant problem in the United States, however adolescent drug use is particularly damaging as such use can affect the physical and mental development of younger people and can impact their opportunities later in life. In 1991, approximately 30.4 percent of those in school grades 8, 10, and 12 had used illicit drugs at some point in their lives. This number reached a high of 43.3 percent in 1997, but dropped back to around 33 percent in 2016. As of 2016, marijuana was still one of the most used drugs among adolescents with 81 percent of 12th graders perceiving marijuana as fairly easy to obtain, compared to 28.6 percent of those perceiving the same for cocaine. Cocaine use among high school students is highest among Hispanic males, with 9.4 percent of this population stating they had used cocaine at least once as of 2015.


Thirty-day prevalence rates of marijuana use for school grades 8, 10, and 12 rose from 8.3 percent in 1991 to 13.7 percent in 2016, after peaking in 1997 at 17.9 percent. High school student marijuana use is generally higher among males than females, with non-Hispanic black youths reporting the highest user rates. Young males are also more likely than females to drive while under the influence of marijuana and in 2014 around 3.7 percent of young males admitted to doing so. Although it may be surprising to some, after many states introduced medical marijuana laws the use of marijuana among teenagers actually decreased, with the state of Maine experiencing a nine percent decrease from the introduction of medical marijuana laws in 1999 to the most recent usage figures in 2015.

Study drugs or smart drugs are prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall that are generally used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but can be used recreationally to increase concentration and boost energy. In 2016, around 41 percent of students in grade 12 thought trying Adderall occasionally posed a great risk for harm, while 6.2 percent had taken Adderall within the last year. While rates of annual Adderall use among adolescents have remained relatively stable over the past few years, rates of Ritalin use have decreased from 4.2 percent in 2001 to only 1.1 percent in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths among those aged 15 to 24 years has grown over the last decade with 4,235 such deaths in 2015. Heroin and prescription opioids are the drugs most commonly involved in overdose deaths. In 2015, there were almost 73,000 substance abuse treatment clients under the age of 18 in the U.S. and approximately 27 percent of substance abuse treatment facilities offered specifically tailored programs for adolescents.

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