Frequently Asked Questions about Adolescent Drug Use, Part 1

Frequently Asked Questions About Adolescent Drug Use

Reprinted from the National Institute of Drug Abuse by Tom Wilson Counseling Center offering online substance abuse education for adults and adolescents.

1. Why do adolescents take drugs?

Adolescents experiment with drugs or continue taking them for several reasons, including:

• To fit in: Many teens use drugs “because others are doing it”—or they think others are doing it—and they fear not being accepted in a social circle that includes drug-using peers.

• To feel good: Abused drugs interact with the neurochemistry of the brain to produce feelings of pleasure. The intensity of this euphoria differs by the type of drug and how it is used.

• To feel better: Some adolescents suffer from depression, social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain. Using drugs may be an attempt to lessen these feelings of distress. Stress especially plays a significant role in starting and continuing drug use as well as returning to drug use (relapsing) for those recovering from an addiction.

• To do better: Ours is a very competitive society, in which the pressure to perform athletically and academically can be intense. Some adolescents may turn to certain drugs like illegal or prescription stimulants because they think those substances will enhance or improve their performance.

• To experiment: Adolescents are often motivated to seek new experiences, particularly those they perceive as thrilling or daring.

2. What drugs are most frequently used by adolescents?

Alcohol and tobacco are the drugs most commonly abused by adolescents, followed by marijuana. The next most popular substances differ between age groups. Young adolescents tend to favor inhalant substances (such as breathing the fumes of household cleaners,glues, or pens; see “The Dangers of Inhalants,” page 15), whereas older teens are more likely to use synthetic marijuana (“K2” or “Spice”) and prescription medications—particularly opioid pain relievers like Vicodin® and stimulants like Adderall®.

 In fact, the Monitoring the Future survey of adolescent drug use and attitudes shows that prescription and over-the-counter medications account for a majority of the drugs most commonly abused by high-school seniors.

The Most Commonly Abused Drugs by High School Seniors (Other than Tobacco and Alcohol)

  1. Marijuana
  2. Amphetamines (Adderall)
  3. Prescription Painkillers (Vicodin, Oxycontin)
  4. Cough Medicine
  5. Tranquilizers
  6. Hallucinogens
  7. Sedatives
  8. MDMA (Ecstasy)
  9. Salvia

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