Most Teens Have Tried Drugs and Alcohol by the Time they Turn 18

by Liz Wu

A recent survey of over 10,000 American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18, found that the majority had tried alcohol and/or drugs by the time they reach adulthood. More specifically, four out of five teens had tried alcohol and one in five had tried drugs by the time they turned 18.

From CBS News:

"Because the early onset of substance use is a significant predictor of substance use behavior and disorders in a lifespan, the public health implications of the current findings are far reaching." the researchers wrote.

A disturbing finding was that 15 percent of the teens met the criteria for lifetime alcohol abuse, and 16 percent could be categorized as drug abusers. The median age for alcohol abuse to begin was 14 with or without dependent behavior. The median age for drug abuse with dependence to start was at the age of 14 and teens who started abusing illicit substances at 15 were less likely to be dependent.

Previous studies have shown that the earlier substance abuse begins, the higher the likelihood for addiction. From Reuters:

"The reason we worry about it is that the earlier they use these substances the earlier they become addicted to it," said Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York.

Foster, who was not involved in the study, said starting to use potentially addictive substances is especially dangerous to younger people because their brains are still developing.

"There’s really a type of rewiring that goes on with continued use than can result in an increased interest in using and an inability to stop using," she added.

Foster, whose organization published a comprehensive report on substance abuse in U.S. adolescents last year, said the numbers in the current report were consistent with past research.

These numbers are especially startling given that out of the 1.8 million kids who need addiction treatment, only one in twenty will get it.

Liz Wu is a Digital Accounts Manager at Prichard Communications, where she oversees digital outreach for Reclaiming Futures and edits Reclaiming Futures Every Day. Before joining the Prichard team, Liz established the West Coast communications presence for the New America Foundation, where she managed all media relations, event planning and social media outreach for their 6 domestic policy programs. Liz received a B.A. in both Peace and Conflict Studies and German from the University of California at Berkeley. She tweets from @LizSF.




*Photo at top by Flickr user Fernando Ariotti