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Parents of teenagers seem to fall into one of two camps when it comes to their kid and drugs. On one hand, there is the parent who insists their teen has never, and would never, dream of experimenting. And on the other is the parent who feels helpless to stop what appears to be the inevitable oncoming storm of addiction and bad behaviors.

But the actual facts present a different story when it comes to teens and drug use.

Whether you think your teen would never use drugs, or worry that your teen has already done them all, these are the real statistics about teenage substance abuse.

And they are sobering.

Teens are (still) Trying Drugs

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about ½ of all teens have abused an illicit drug at least once by the time they reach the twelfth grade.

That means one out of every two teens has at least experimented with a drug one time. Parents, there is a 50% chance that your kid is partying, afterall.

Teens are Drinking

If your kid isn’t trying drugs, they could be drinking. More teens drink alcohol than smoke cigarettes or use marijuana (the most commonly used drug among teens).

In the past month, almost 40% of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol, and more than one in five admitted to daily “binge drinking” within the past two weeks.

Teens are Smoking

The good news is that teens are smoking cigarettes less than ever before. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t smoking. In the past month, high school seniors’ daily cigarette use was down, but marijuana use was up. Teen use of e-cigarettes has tripled in the last year, with nearly 2 million students admitting to e-cigarette use in the past 30 days.

Teen Drug Use by the Numbers

Over half of the people who try illicit drugs for the first time are teenagers under the age of 18. And drug use is highest among the late teen and early twenties age group, with more than 22% of 18- to 20-year olds reporting illicit drug use within the past month.

Marijuana is the most commonly used substance for new illicit drug users. The next most commonly used drugs are prescription pain relievers.

A Prescription for Abuse

Fifty-two million people over the age of 12 in the US have misused prescription drugs in their lifetime. According to the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence (CLAAD), more than 25% of all people who started abusing drugs last year began with prescription medications such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives.

The top 4 reasons teens use prescription drugs include:

  1. Easy to get from parent’s medicine cabinets (62%)
  2. Available everywhere (52%)
  3. They are not illegal drugs (51%)
  4. Easy to get through other people’s prescriptions (50%)

Six out of ten teens who abuse prescription drugs get them free from friends and relatives. Your medicine cabinet could be an unwitting supplier to the teens that come in and out of your home.

Abuse of ADHD medicines such as Adderall is on the rise among high school students, many of whom believe the stimulant helps them to study and perform better on tests.

Drug abuse experts say that prescription opioid abuse is linked to an increase in heroin use. When teens get addicted to pain pills, they often progress to heroin when pills become hard to come by.

Under the Influence and Behind the Wheel

An estimated 12% of teens are driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol at least once per year, and more than 25% of young adults ages 21-25 are driving while impaired.

Nearly one third (32%) of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S. are a result of alcohol-impaired driving crashes.

Your teen doesn’t necessarily view riding in the car with a drinking driver as dangerous. A new survey found that 30% of teens have knowingly accepted a ride from a driver who had been drinking in the past year.

Teen Drug Use Can Lead to Tragedy

Unfortunately, teen experimentation and drug use can lead to tragic tales of addiction, overdose, and death.

More than 17,000 deaths a year involve prescription opioid painkillers. More teens die from prescription drug abuse every year
than from heroin and cocaine combined.

One-half of the nearly 4.6 million drug-related emergency room visits each year are due to adverse reactions from prescription pharmaceuticals, including drug misuse and abuse.

Drugs are responsible for 90% of poisoning deaths in the United States.

Prescription drug overdoses are now one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., and kill more Americans each year than guns or car accidents.

What Parents Can Do

Parents need to know that the teenage drug use is a serious threat to their children. The younger a person begins experimenting with drugs, the greater the risk of becoming addicted. The teen brain is hardwired for addiction, and teen drug use can cause serious changes to a teen’s brain.

The good news is that parents are not entirely powerless to help steer their teens away from drug misuse that can lead to abuse, addiction, or fatalities. Teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Talking to your teen matters.

But you can go one step further to protect your teens from drugs, too. Alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs are the most commonly used substances for teens, and just happen to be the ones most likely to be found in your home. Lock up all medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, or medical cannabis products, with a secure locking box or locking bottle.

Keep medications and alcohol out of reach and out of sight of children, and keep track of how much you are using. Continue to talk to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Your efforts at home may be the key to helping prevent your teen from becoming one more sobering drug statistic.

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