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Top 10 Drugs Used by Teens

Teenagers have a reputation for engaging in drug and alcohol abuse. The stereotypical wild teenage rebellion filled with parties and raves does not apply to every teenager in America, but a significant percentage of teenagers do abuse drugs and alcohol.

Parties and raves are not the only place where teenagers abuse substances; there is also a problem with drug use in schools. About 2.4 million teenagers aged 12 to 17, or 9.5 percent, have used an illicit drug in the past month, and 4.5 million (17.9 percent) have used one in the past year. Those numbers do not include the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or technically legal synthetic drugs. Teenage drug use is a significant problem, often requiring teen drug rehab.

It is important for teenagers with drug or alcohol problems to seek help early; otherwise, there problem may become a lifelong issue. Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers offers treatment programs for teenage drug addiction. You can learn more by calling our Admissions team at (714) 202-4669.

Top 10 Drugs Used by Teenagers

Drug use in teenagers can be difficult to recognize. You can learn more about the symptoms of drug use, including the unique signs of teenage drug use, here. The following list includes the most common substances abused by teenagers.


Alcohol is the most widely abused substance for any age, including teenagers. Around 12.9 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 reported drinking alcohol in the past month, and 26.3 reported having done so in the past year. About 7.2 percent have engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and 1.3 percent has engaged in heavy drinking. These two behaviors increase the risk of developing a substance abuse or addiction problem.


Marijuana is the illicit drug most commonly abused by teens, with 1.8 million (7.2 percent) currently using the drug, and 3.4 million (13.5 percent) having used it at some point in the past year. Many people, including teenagers, do not believe that marijuana is dangerous to a person’s health. However, studies have shown the drug can cause damage, especially to the developing adolescent brain.

Prescription Drugs

The abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise in all age groups, including teenagers aged 12 to 17. About 6.6 percent of teenagers have abused psychotherapeutic prescription drugs in the past year, and 2.8 percent have in the past month. This correlates to 1.7 million and 693,000 teenagers respectively. Prescription pain killers are likewise abused by teenagers, with 2.2 percent of teenagers (558,000) using a pain killer for non-medical use in the past month, and 5.3 percent or 1.3 million teenagers have done so in the past year.


Tobacco is not one of the first substances to come to most people’s minds when they list drugs. However, the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive, and can cause harmful health consequences. Although tobacco products are illegal for those under the age of 18, there are still 2.2 million (8.6 percent) teenagers aged between 12 and 17 who have used tobacco in the past month, and 3.8 million (15.2 percent) have used it in the past year.


Inhalants, which include volatile solvents such as gasoline or nail polish remover, aerosol sprays such as spray paint or hair spray, and gases such as propane or chloroform, are commonly abused by teenagers. In the past year, 3.3 percent, or 647,000, teenagers have used an inhalant, and in the past month 0.8 percent, or 188,000, have.


In certain circles of teenagers, ecstasy, also known as MDMA or Molly, is a popular drug to abuse. Although ecstasy often makes headlines, especially in connection to raves and other parties, only 2 percent of teenagers, or 488,000, have used ecstasy in their lifetime. However, the number of emergency room visits due to teenage ecstasy abuse is on the rise, showing resurgence in the popularity of the drug.

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs are those that are created in a lab to provide a similar high to drugs such as marijuana or amphetamines. The most popular synthetic drugs are known as K2 or spice, a synthetic cannabinoid, and bath salts, which are similar to amphetamines. Synthetic drugs are particularly harmful because they consistently change in order to remain legal, so the side effects and long term damage are not completely understood. About 12 percent of twelfth graders have used synthetic marijuana in the past year, and 1.3 percent has used bath salts in the past year.


Steroid abuse is a problem among teenagers, especially young males wanting to develop larger muscles. Over the past few years, the lifetime percentage has remained stable at 5 percent. Steroids cause many health problems, including altering the hormonal balance. Many young men also abuse protein powder and herbal substances that include ingredients similar to steroids.


About 1.1 percent of 12 graders have used methamphetamines in the past year. The number of meth users aged 12-17 is not as high, with only 0.6 percent having used the drug at some point in their lives. However, for those aged 18-25, that number jumps to 3.1 percent.


The use of cocaine is declining in all age groups, including teenagers. However, 0.1 percent, or 30,000 teenagers, has used cocaine in the past month, and 0.9 percent, or 180,000, has used it in the past year.

Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Any drug or alcohol abuse is potentially more detrimental to the developing brains and bodies of adolescents than to adults. If a drug abuse problem is not appropriately treated during adolescence, it can lead to more problems in adulthood. At Drug Treatment and Rehab Centers, we have teen drug rehabilitation programs that stop the problem before it can escalate too far. To find out more about our programs, you can call our Admissions team at (714) 202-4669.

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