What Teens Have to Say About Nicotine, Alcohol & Other Drugs

    We surveyed more than 1,000 kids, aged 12-17, across the nation. Unlike other national surveys of young people, our survey didn’t ask teens to report on their own use of substances. Instead, we asked about key risk factors for future substance use, especially having friends who engage in substance use, and an intention to try substances at some point in time.

    Where do teens get their information about substances?

    The majority of teens (67%) — especially younger teens — get their information about substances from credible sources, such as parents and school classes. However, twice as many teens who have at least one friend who uses substances report less reliable sources as their main sources of information, relative to teens with no friends who use substances. These sources include other teens, the Internet and social media.

    How easily can teens obtain drugs or alcohol?

    We asked teens how long it would take them to get tobacco/nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription pain relievers or other prescription medicine, if they were to obtain one or more of these substances now. More than half said that they would be able to get at least one of these substances within a relatively short period of time. Not surprisingly, more than one-third said they could get alcohol within a day. Nearly 30% could get cigarettes or vaping products and 20% could obtain marijuana within a day.

    How many teens have seen someone using substances in real life?

    Nearly 28% of teens reported that they have personally seen someone using illegal drugs in real life as opposed to other places like TV, the Internet, social media or the movies. Of great concern is that, among those who have personally seen drugs used in real life, the place most often mentioned was on school property (38%).

    What do teens think about driving under the influence?

    From a safety standpoint, teens have gotten the message about drinking and driving, with only 3.5% saying they would feel safe being in a car where the driver had just been drinking. This contrasts with views on marijuana, where some older teens seem to believe the myth that it is safe to ride with someone who has just used marijuana.

    What’s the difference between younger and older teens when it comes to substance use?

    One of the major findings from our research was the major shift in risk that happens between younger teens aged 12 to 14, and older teens aged 15 to 17. As a parent, it may be helpful to think about the differences between middle school and high school kids. Older teens reported more exposure to nicotine, alcohol and other substances; misinformation around substance use; more friends using substances; and a greater willingness to try substances in the future.

    How influential are parents when it comes to teens deciding to use or not use substances?

    More than half (56%) of teens in our survey said that the reason some kids don’t use alcohol or other drugs is because of parents, either because they know their parents would disapprove or because they would get in trouble with their parents.

    Last Updated

    October 2023