Substance Use in Adolescence

Get information and resources about adolescent substance use and ways to prevent it.

NIDA for Teens Resources on the Facts About Drugs and Health

NIDA for Teens has encouraged adolescents to consider the impact that drugs and alcohol have on their developing brains and to make informed decisions about substance use. Check out these new NIDA for Teens resources:

Alcohol Use in Adolescence

Adolescents use alcohol more than any other drug, including tobacco and marijuana. Binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for males, or four or more drinks for females) is the most commonly reported—and most dangerous—way that adolescents consume alcohol.1 Adolescents who drink alcohol are more likely to experience negative consequences such as injury or death, difficulty at school, addiction, and legal problems. Additionally, alcohol can interfere with brain development. Fortunately, overall alcohol use among adolescents has decreased over the last decade.

Learn more about adolescent alcohol use and how to prevent it

Tobacco and E-cigarette Use in Adolescence

Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, and almost 90 percent of adults who smoke daily first tried smoking by age 18. The good news is that tobacco use by adolescents and young adults has declined substantially over the past 40 years. However, in 2014 and for the first time in history, more teenagers used vaping devices, such as electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes (devices used to inhale nicotine, marijuana, or other flavored vapor), than tobacco cigarettes, and this upward trend continues. These products pose a set of new challenges, as they are known to be harmful but their health impact is not yet fully understood.

Learn more about adolescent tobacco and e-cigarette use and how to prevent it

Drug Use in Adolescence

Illicit drug use—which includes the abuse of illegal drugs and/or the misuse of prescription medications or household substances—is something many adolescents engage in occasionally, and some do regularly. High school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are almost twice as likely to use illicit drugs as those who identify as heterosexual. Prescription drug misuse, which can include opioids, is among the fastest growing drug problems in the United States. However, overall use of these types of drugs among adolescents is decreasing.

The most commonly used illicit drug is marijuana. Young people who use marijuana may experience poor health outcomes, and marijuana use can negatively affect adolescents’ brain development and functioning.2

Fortunately, many factors and strategies can help adolescents stay drug free: strong positive connections with parents, other family members, school, and religion; having parents present clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline; and reduced access in the home to illegal substances.

Learn more about adolescent drug use and how to prevent it


1 Wilsnack, R. W., Wilsnack, S. C., Gmel, G., & Kantor, L. W. (2018). Gender differences in binge drinking. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 39(1), 57–76. back to top

2 NIDA. (2020, April 08). What are marijuana's long-term effects on the brain? back to top