Substance use among teens

Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are the most commonly used and abused substances by teens. 

The average age of first alcohol use is 12 and marijuana is 14. The likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greatest for those who start using in their early teens.


The problem with teenage substance use

Many parents and teens consider experimenting with drugs and alcohol a part of growing up, despite the many risk factors and consequences involved. The fact is teens who use drugs and alcohol put their health, safety, and futures at risk. 

Most teens don’t go from trying drugs to developing an addiction. However, drug experimentation is still a problem. Teen substance use can lead to difficulties at school, cause or exacerbate physical or mental health-related issues, and negatively impact peer and family relationships.

Youth substance use has been linked to changes in brain structure and function, increasing the risk of substance use disorders and addiction later on in life. Using drugs during this critical development period can lead to lifelong implications, particularly as it relates to brain function including memory, motor skills, and coordination. Teens who experiment with substances are compromising the full potential of their brains to learn, conceptualize, and prepare for college and the workplace.

Risk factors that can lead to use

There are many reasons why teens may use drugs, including the desire for new experiences, an attempt to deal with problems or perform better in school, and peer pressure. Teens are biologically programmed to seek adventure and take risks as a way to establish their own identity. 

Teens may try alcohol because they saw their parents drinking, or they may experiment with marijuana because their friends offered it to them. No matter how or why an adolescent begins using substances, addiction is a real risk. 

It’s important to take the time to familiarize yourself with the risks that may push your teen toward using drugs.






If you or your teen are struggling with mental health or substance use issues, FirstLink is available 24/7 to connect you to the services you need. Dial 2-1-1 for local, free, and confidential help. Check out our Crisis Roadmap to learn about other community resources available to support you and your family.