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 35 percent in 2019. As of 2019, marijuana was still one of the most used drugs among adolescents with around 78 percent of 12th graders perceiving marijuana as fairly easy to obtain, compared to around 27 percent of those perceiving the same for cocaine. Cocaine use among high school students is highest among Hispanic males, with 8.1 percent of this population stating they had used cocaine at least once as of 2017.

Thirty-day prevalence rates of marijuana use for school grades 8, 10, and 12 rose from 8.3 percent in 1991 to 15.6 percent in 2019 after peaking in 1997 at 17.9 percent. High school student marijuana use is generally higher among Black and Hispanic youths, and almost equally prevalent among male and female youths. Rates of alcohol use among teens have declined drastically since the early 1990's and the average age in which youths first drank alcohol has increased from 13.65 years from 1991 to 1993 to 14.64 years from 2013 to 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 2019, around 44 percent of students in grade 12 thought trying Adderall occasionally posed a great risk for harm, while 4 percent had taken Adderall within the last year. While rates of annual Adderall use among adolescents have fluctuated over the past few years depending on age, overall rates of Ritalin use have decreased from 4.2 percent in 2001 to less than 1 percent in 2019.

Despite decreases in general drug use among adolescents, the number of drug overdose deaths among those aged 15 to 24 years has grown over the last decade with 5,455 such deaths in 2017. Heroin and prescription opioids are the drugs most commonly involved in overdose deaths. In 2017, there were around 62,862 substance abuse treatment clients under the age of 18 in the U.S. and approximately 25 percent of substance abuse treatment facilities offered specifically tailored programs for adolescents.

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Adolescent drug use in the U.S.

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Performance enhancing/study drugs

Deaths and treatment


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