Shocking Amount of Drug and Alcohol Use among Teens

The results of a new survey of American teenagers indicate that most have tried alcohol and drugs and a significant number can be categorized as abusers.

The survey, which has been published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, looked a sample of more than 10,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18.  Researchers interviewed teens in person and asked them about their use of drugs and alcohol.  Four out of five teens said they had tried alcohol and almost half admitted to consuming 12 or more drinks in the previous year. About half of the teens also admitted to trying some type of illegal drug.

At least 15 percent of the surveyed teens could be categorized as alcohol abusers and 16 percent as drug abusers. Among adults, the rate of lifetime alcohol abuse is estimated to be 18 percent and the rate for drug abuse is 11 percent.  Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this survey is the finding that the teen alcohol abuse rate is nearly the same as for adults, while the drug abuse level exceeds the rate for adults.

Most of the surveyed teens who admitted to being substance abusers said they first began using alcohol and drugs at age 14 or 15.  Early substance use has been found to be one of the most significant predictors of substance abuse problem later in life.  According to Joel Swendsen, lead author of the survey report, the findings demonstrate the need for substance abuse prevention programs for preteens.  Early intervention well before the age of 14 could prevent some teens from experimenting with alcohol and drugs and decrease the number of teens with substance abuse problems.

The survey showed a possible correlation between race and alcohol and drug use.  Caucasian and Hispanic teenagers were more likely to have tried alcohol and drugs compared to African American and other ethnic groups.  Gender played some role in the rate of substance abuse.  Below age 16, equal numbers of boys and girls had substance abuse issues.  Among teens aged 17 and 18, boys had a much higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse.

The survey interviews took place between 2001 and 2004.  According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the current average age of initial marijuana use among U.S. teens is 14 while some children as young as 12 are beginning to use alcohol. Marijuana can be addictive and can also require treatment for marijuana addiction, however the main fear with marijuana is that it will lead to abuse of other more dangerous (and addictive) drugs like cocaine or OxyContin.  The organization estimates that more than half of the 20 million alcoholics in the nation began drinking as teens.