In the United States, high school students abuse alcohol more than any illicit drug. Not surprisingly, it causes the most harm, and underage alcohol use is responsible for 119,000 emergency department visits and 4,300 deaths each year among people under the age of 21.

Statistics from surveys conducted the past two years show:

  • 58.5% of 12th graders had tried alcohol
  • 30% of high schoolers drank in the last month
  • 13% binge drank (consuming four or more alcoholic beverages in a row)
  • 16% rode in the car of someone who had been drinking
  • 6% drove after drinking


In terms of illicit drugs, teenagers abuse marijuana the most. With the legalization of marijuana and cannabis products in many states, marijuana is now easily accessible to many high school students. At the same time, teenage perception of the dangers associated with marijuana use or the risk of marijuana addiction has decreased. Marijuana use in teens has remained steady in recent years, though many teens are now vaping marijuana in addition to smoking it.

Current and even past marijuana use is linked to significantly lower academic performance. The statistics on teenage marijuana use show that middle and high school marijuana use is common:

  • 16% of 12th graders have used marijuana in the past month
  • 1% of 6th graders have used marijuana in the past month
  • 10% of high schoolers earning As as grades currently use marijuana, as opposed to 48% of those earning Ds or Fs

Prescription Drugs

Fortunately, the opioid epidemic seems to have avoided high schools. Unlike adults in the country, non-medical use of prescription drugs, especially opiate painkillers, has decreased among teenagers in recent years. About 11% of high school seniors report misusing prescription medications in the past year. However, the number is only 4%  when it comes to the misuse of painkillers specifically.

Academic pressure and lack of sleep can cause teens to turn to drugs to boost their performance in school. Stimulants, like the amphetamine drugs Adderall and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are often chosen by students trying to cram for an exam or staying up late finishing homework. While these are often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they can cause harmful health effects if not used properly. They can also become addictive.

Non-medical amphetamine use by teenagers is on the rise:

  • 6.9% of high school seniors report misusing Adderall
  • 7.9-9.8% of students misuse any type of amphetamine
  • Emergency department visits for ADHD medication use tripled between 2005 and 2010

Other Drugs Used by High Schoolers

Nearly a quarter of American high schoolers use at least one type of illicit drug. Many use more than one, or combine them with alcohol or tobacco. Common drugs used by teenagers (besides marijuana) include:

Source: the recovery village

underage drinking
drug facts
8 to 12th fact