Drug use in high school can have serious impacts on the developing bodies and brains of teenagers. Here are some statistics concerning drug and alcohol use among high school students.
Although it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol, findings show that people between the ages of 12-20 consume more than 1/10 of all alcohol consumed in the United States.1 High school students in the United States abuse alcohol more than any other drug. By the 12th grade, more than 2/3 of students have tried alcohol.2
Binge drinking is the most common pattern of alcohol consumption among adolescents, accounting for more than 90% of the alcohol consumed by high school students.3 A national survey reported that almost 1/5 of 12th graders binge drank during the past 30 days.4 Not surprisingly, alcohol is a major source of harm to teenagers. In 2013, there were approximately 119,000 emergency rooms visits by teenagers for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.5
According to results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, among high school students surveyed during the past month:6
- 30% drank some alcohol
- 14% binge drank
- 6% drove after drinking
- 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking
On the positive side, alcohol use has significantly declined among high school students in recent years. In 2018, 19% of 10th graders and 30% of 12th graders reported past-month use of alcohol, compared to 26% of 10th graders and 39% of 12th graders in 2013. Lifetime alcohol use, daily alcohol use, and binge drinking also saw significant decreases among all grades between 2013 and 2018.2
A recent trend that has skyrocketed among high school students in recent years is vaping. This is the act of inhaling and exhaling vapors produced from nicotine liquid heated in a handheld battery-powered vaporizer or e-cigarette. Vaping is now the most popular way for adolescents to consume tobacco products, with more than 3.6 million middle and high school students using e-cigarettes in 2018.7 According to results from the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey of drug use and attitudes, 32% of 10th graders and 37% of 12th graders reported past-year vaping.2 About 12% of high school students report past-month use of vaping products, compared to 5% of students who reported smoking cigarettes.2
Marijuana use is prevalent among high school students in the United States. About half of high school students reported ever having used marijuana. The following statistics demonstrate how common marijuana use is among high school students:2
- 35% of 12th graders smoked marijuana in the past year
- 21% of 12th graders smoked marijuana in the last 30 days
- 17% of 10th graders smoked marijuana in the last 30 days
- About 1 in 16 high school seniors use marijuana every day
However, despite recent changes to state marijuana laws, we have not seen an increase in marijuana use among high school students. In fact, the daily, past-month, past-year, and lifetime marijuana use among 10th and 12th graders remain unchanged compared to five years ago.2
In 2016, 3.6% of adolescents aged 12-17 reported misusing opioids over the past year.8 Fortunately, despite the rapid increase in the use of opioid drugs among adults during the current opioid epidemic, the misuse of prescription opioids in high school students has seen a significant decline. Over the last 5 years, Vicodin use has decreased 75% in 10th graders and 67% in 12th graders.2 The past-year misuse of Vicodin among high school seniors decreased from a peak of 10.5% in 2003 to 1.7% in 2018, while Oxycontin misuse has decreased from 5.5% in 2005 to 2.3% in 2018.9
If you suspect your high school-aged child is abusing substances, you should talk with your child immediately. If you are a high school student experiencing an issue with substance use, reach out to a trusted adult. If needed, you can bring your child to a doctor who can screen for drugs. If you decide that your teen can benefit from substance abuse treatment, there are many options available.
Some of American Addiction Centers’ treatment facilities offer outpatient treatment programs, which are beneficial to teens as it allows them to stay in school, at least part-time. However, some adolescents may require inpatient treatment. Your child’s treatment provider will probably recommend counseling, likely in the form of behavioral therapy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets-Underage Drinking.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.
- Miller, J.W., Naimi, T.S., Brewer, R.D., Jones, S.E. (2007). Binge drinking and associated health risk behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics, 119(1), 76-85.
- Johnston, L.D., Miech, R.A., O’Malley, P.M., Miech, R.A., Schulenberg, J.E., & Patrick, M.E. (2018). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2017: 2017 Overview- Key findings on adolescent drug use.
- Naeger, S. (2017). Emergency department visits involving underage alcohol use: 2010 to 2013.
- Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W.A., Shanklin, S.L., Flint, K.H., Queen, B., … & Ethier, K.A. (2018). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries, 67(No. SS-8), 1–114.
- Cullen, K.A., Ambrose, B.K., Gentzke, A.S., Apelberg, B.J., Jamal, A., & King, B.A. (2018). Notes from the Field: Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students-United States, 2011–2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67(45), 1276–1277.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Johnston, L.D., Miech, R.A., O’Malley, P.M., Bachman, J.G., Schulenberg, J.E., & Patrick, M.E. (2019). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use 1975-2018: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use.)