Most Widely Used Drugs by American Teens
Most Widely Used Drugs by American Teens

Most Widely Used Drugs by American Teens

Most Common Substances Used by Today's Youth

As is the case with addicts of any age, teenage users are attracted to drugs for a variety of different reasons. Whether they initially begin abusing drugs to fit in, to self-medicate, improve their overall mood, or even boost their academic or work performance, those who start using drugs during adolescence are at a much higher risk of destroying their lives than adults addicts. 

Unlike addicts who begin abusing harmful substances in adulthood, teenage addict's brains are still developing. Consequently, due to their brains developing brains, teenage addictions are much more damaging neurologically as well as considerably more difficult to rehabilitate than adult dependency issues.   

With that said, it is critical for parents of drug-abusing teens to seek treatment for their child as soon as possible. In order for parents to locate the most appropriate treatment options, however, they first need to be knowledgable and able to identify the most commonly abused substances, as well as the typical reasons why teens turn to said drugs in the first place. The following article is a brief, albeit illuminating look at a chosen few of the most abused substances by today's teenage demographic. 

1. Alcohol

According to the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIH), alcohol is the most widely used drug by today's youth. Making matters even worse, alcohol also happens to be the most serious and deadly threat our youth currently face. By NIH's estimates, as many as 5,000 teens die due to alcohol-related circumstances (roughly one-third of all adolescent deaths). 

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

In addition to being the most pervasive and deadly substance, alcohol is also among the most detrimental to the mental, physical, and emotional health of teenagers. 

Of course, alcohol affects teens the same way it does adults - it lowers their inhibitions, provides them with "liquid courage," and significantly affects their cognitive thinking and decision-making. However, while alcohol affects the teenage brain in similar ways that it does adults, the negative side-effects are significantly amplified in the developing brains of adolescents.

2. Adderall

Adderall is the most popular name brand stimulants being abused by today's teens - although "Adderall" is the name of a brand, it is also a catch-all term used to describe off-brand medications that have a similar composition: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (doctors typically prescribe off-brand alternatives due to the high price of the brand, Adderall).

Like other stimulants, Adderall is clinically used to treat ADHD-related symptoms. When taken as prescribed, amphetamine-based drugs can be life-changing effective. Unfortunately, amphetamines are widely more popular among teens who use them for non-medical and recreational uses.  

According to the most recent National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) studies, Adderall, and other stimulants have alarming abuse rates that affect:

  • 7.5 percent of high school seniors
  • 5.2 percent of high school sophomores
  • 1 percent of high school freshman

Effects of Adderall

As to why Amphetamine-based medications, like Adderall, are so widely abused by American teens, one needs look no further than the effects of the drug which, when taken in high or non-medical doses, can be profoundly euphoric and provide teens with seemingly endless energy. Like their classification suggests, these stimulant-related meds can be unbelievably stimulating, enabling teens to stay up all night, study harder, and feel all-around indestructible.

Despite what today's physicians or the drug's widespread tv and internet ads will tell you, however, is that stimulants as powerful as Adderall are incredibly addictive and even dangerous for those who take it for non-medical use. Decreased appetite, sleep-related issues, and high blood pressure-raising effects of these drugs can quickly and quite negatively affect the mental and physical health of teens who abuse them. 

3. Marijuana

While little needs to be said about this widely known and polarizing drug, there is no denying the fact that its effects are amplified and therefore more dangerous when used by teens.

Effects of Marijuana

While undoubtedly the least dangerous drug on this list, marijuana is by all accounts, detrimental to teenage users. And, while it could be argued that a mature adult whose brain is fully developed is fully equipped to use the drug in legal and manageable doses, the same cannot be said for teens whose brain reacts differently to marijuana's effects which include:

  • respiratory problems
  • increased risk of experiencing mental health-related disorders (eg. depression, anxiousness, and even psychosis)
  • decreased motor functions and cognitive abilities
  • increased risk of becoming addicted to harder, even life-threatening substances

4. Opioids

Over the last two decades, opioids have become epidemic and fatally devastating in America and beyond. As of 2019, opioid-related deaths have sky-rocketed to over 47,000 - up from 2016's record-setting 42,000 deaths. According to NIH, from the years 1999 to 2016, more than 9,000 teens have died from opioid-overdoses (although, some news outlets claim this number could be much higher as of 2019).

These numbers are enough to put opioid-related deaths at number ten overall cause of death.

Effects of Opioid Abuse