The Number One Drug Used By Teens: What Is It?

The Number One Drug Used By Teens: What Is It?


  • Teenage drug addiction has been one of the most serious problems in the US.
  • According to National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the predominant substance of abuse among teens is alcohol and tobaccoWeed is the next most commonly abused illegal drug amongst teens.
  • There are various factors that contribute to early substance misuse such as curiosity, stress, low self-esteem, struggling with poor grades in school, peer pressure, troubled home life, etc. Genetics and mental health disorders/behaviors may also drive teens towards experimenting with substances to cope up with their stressors.

Table Of Contents:

Why Do Teens Use Drugs?

Drugs have the tendency to alleviate symptoms temporarily and help feel better. Teens struggling with mental health issues (depression, anxiety) or coping with stress or trauma may self-medicate with drugs.  Some teenagers may also use drugs to get the feelings of pleasure and happiness.

Teens tend to drink because of peer pressure or boredom. It usually starts as experimentation in social settings. Teens are more prone to seeking exciting experiences and this eventually transitions into a more frequent use.

Number One Substance of Abuse by Teens

Teens in the United States often seek out for some of the popular substances and abuse them on a regular basis. According to National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the predominant substance of abuse among teens is alcohol and tobacco. Weed is the next most commonly abused illegal drug amongst teens.

Since alcohol is legal and easily accessible, it potentially contributes to underage drinking. Teens can obtain alcohol from siblings or friends of legal drinking age, befriend store clerks and purchase it from them, or special occasions or vacations when parents allow them to drink.

Teens might use fake IDs to purchase and may even go to the extremes of stealing either from their parents or stores.

Binge drinking in teens can lead to serious consequences both physically and mentally including:

  • Deprivation affect on brain development
  • Memory difficulties
  • Isolating themselves
  • Hard to concentrate
  • Arrogant behaviors

Other Substances of Abuse by Teens

There are several other popularly abused drugs amongst teens that have different effects. Teenagers tend to be susceptible and can be lured towards substance use. The focus towards substance abuse is usually unidirectional. In some cases, the focus is only on alcohol consumption and never swerves into narcotic use or illegal prescription drugs. Contrarily, the focus in some cases is entirely on illicit drug use such as use of weed, illegal drugs or prescription drugs.

Popularly abused substances amongst teenagers include:

  • Weed:  This drug is most commonly used especially by the high school teens because it is easy for them to obtain. In some states, approved weed for recreational use is made available only to individuals above the age of 21. It is considered illegal if anyone under the age of 21 consume weed.
  • Narcotics:  COC is less commonly used drug than weed among adolescents. It may be primarily used in party settings and nightclubs. Some teens may use it at home since it can be inhaled or snorted.
  • Stimulants:  This class of drug is prescribed to treat ADHD. Since the stimulants increase alertness and concentration, teens tend to abuse them to complete lengthy assignments, boost academic performance and study for tests.
  • Painkillers and Prescription Drugs:  Teens tend to often use prescription painkillers along with alcohol or other drugs such as weed.
  • Spice and K2:  These are synthetic weed created by spraying herbs with cannabinoid chemicals. It was legal until 2011, but the chemicals contained in it were deemed illegal. There has been a rapid decline in usage since legislative act among teens. Spice is still easily accessible since it is not regulated properly and can be hazardous to teenagers.
  • Crystal Meth:  This drug is considered to be risky among teens and the usage has declined. There are studies stating teens may be using meth since it makes them happy.
  • MDMA:  MDMA is not a commonly used drug among teenagers. It is used in parties and nightclubs. It creates a sense of euphoria and a feeling of emotionally attached to others. It comes in various tablet forms that look like candy, making it more appealing to teens.
  • Hallucinogens:  Teens may use magic mushroom drug, which is also a hallucinogenic. It creates a feeling to go on “trips” during which it disrupts the perceptions of reality and makes them incognizant of their surroundings, but users find such trips enjoyable.
  • DXM:  Teens use DXM containing cough syrups because it gives a sense of high. It is legal and inexpensive, which makes it appealing to the adolescents. The side effects can be dangerous such as paranoia, hallucinations.
  • Inhalants:  The fumes from the inhalants can create a high when inhaled. These are inexpensive and are easily available around the house in household products such as nail enamel remover, glue and gasoline.

Teen substance abuse is a societal issue and it is difficult for parents and teenagers to discuss about it openly and freely. Substance misuse increases the chances of overdose, negative side effects and dependence, and there are numerous substance abuse treatments available to help overcome addiction.

Substance abuse and addiction can be alleviated by improving the teen’s environment, mental health and family life as well as other stressors.

Substance Abuse Statistics

According to statistics, teens used drugs on a daily basis within the past year:

Drug of Abuse

8th Grade Students

10th Grade Students

12th Grade Students




Less than 6%















Crystal Meth






Hallucinogens (LSD)



3.2% Combined


More Common

Risk Factors for Teenage Drug Use

There are other prominent risk factors that could also influence development of addiction for teenagers including:

  • Teenagers who have greater accessibility to alcohol and illegal substances are more liable to drug abuse and require addiction treatment.
  • Teenagers living or raised in poverty are more prone to substance abuse. Poverty plays a role in increasing the risk of illicit substance abuse requiring addiction treatment.
  • Teenagers are more susceptible to drug habituation if their parents had substance abuse history. Genetics also play a vital role in substance abuse.
  • Teenagers exposed to trauma are also more likely to abuse substances and take unwanted risks. Treating trauma may lower the risk factors related to mental health and its needs.
  • Parents who draw little to no boundaries to their children or neglecting them may be furthering the risks towards development of teenage substance abuse. If the environmental risk factors are corrected, the probability of requiring treatment for addiction in teenagers may be reduced.

All the above risk factors might seem appalling, but it isn’t determined that teenagers who possess all of the above risk factors are said to struggle with drug abuse and addiction.

It is difficult to discern between teenage behaviors and symptoms of drug use. As teens move away from adolescence, they get exposed to new friends, new ways of thinking and gain new experiences. Teenagers undergo hormonal changes during this period and may feel irritated and private. Parents should initiate a conversation with their children, explain their care towards them and their future, and make them feel supported and loved. Such initiatives may drive the teens to stop using drugs and seek help if they have an addiction.

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