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Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse (cont.)

Facts About Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse

How substance use affects teens’ health

Teens' use of substances (except for inhalants and prescription opiates) has dropped in recent years. But substance use still remains a leading cause of injury and death in young people. It also causes long-term social and health problems.1

Growth and development can be affected by tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Teens who abuse these substances may have trouble finding their identity, building relationship skills, and becoming emotionally stable. They also may have trouble preparing for their future. Substance abuse can affect memory and learning, which can harm a teen's schoolwork.

And substance use can grow very quickly from experimenting or occasional use to abuse and addiction in teens at risk.


About 8% of teens smoke cigarettes often (more than 20 days a month).2 A teen who uses tobacco for more than a year has more than an 80% chance of becoming dependent on it.3


About 75% of high school students have tried alcohol, and about 26% of teens have had a recent episode of heavy drinking (more than 5 drinks within a couple of hours).2

The leading cause of death for teens and young adults is car crashes related to alcohol. Drinking also can lead teens to have unprotected sex. This raises the chance of pregnancy and infection with sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, chlamydia, and HIV.


About 38% of teens have tried marijuana one or more times, and about 19% of teens currently use marijuana.2 Marijuana can hinder memory, problem-solving, and learning. It can also cause mood swings, anxiety, and depression.


About 7% of teens have tried cocaine, while 3% use it currently (one or more times in a month).2 It can cause abnormal heartbeats, occasionally causing a deadly heart attack, seizure, or stroke.

Other substances

Other substances teens abuse include:

  • Inhalants (glues, aerosol sprays, gasoline, paints, and paint thinners). These are some of the substances most frequently abused by junior high students, because they don't cost much and are easy to get. They contain poisons that can cause brain damage or, in rare cases, even death with the first use.
  • Club drugs, like ecstasy (MDMA) and date rape drugs such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and flunitrazepam (Rohypnol). These drugs are often used at all-night dances, raves, or trances. The number of teens abusing these drugs is small compared with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. But these drugs can be dangerous, especially in overdose or when combined with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Methamphetamine (commonly called meth, crank, or speed). Methamphetamine can cause seizures; stroke; serious mental problems, including paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions; and long-term health problems.
  • Hallucinogens, including LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, PCP (phencyclidine), and ketamine. Serious and lasting problems such as psychosis or hallucinogenic flashbacks can occur after a teen uses LSD.
  • Opiates, such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. Teens who use these drugs may steal, prostitute themselves, or resort to other dangerous or illegal behavior to buy drugs.
  • Prescription drugs, such as diazepam (for example, Valium), methylphenidate (Ritalin), hydrocodone and acetaminophen (Vicodin), and oxycodone (OxyContin). Teens also abuse nonprescription medicines, such as cough syrups and cold pills.
  • Anabolic steroids, which teens use to build muscle tissue and decrease body fat. Steroids can cause liver cancer and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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