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

Teen Survey Parent Companion

In a previous blog post, we shared research we conducted with parents and other caregivers to understand the challenges they face parenting through the early teen years, especially as it relates to substance use during this critical period of brain development. Through one’s mid-20’s the brain is undergoing massive changes, developing critical capabilities for adulthood, like the ability to manage emotions, weigh the pros and cons of risk-taking, be prepared for consequences and problem-solve. The parents we talked with were curious about the risk factors associated with teen substance use and how to protect their kids.

In addition to the parents’ perspective, we wanted to hear from teens about this issue. With teen vaping at epidemic proportions, the legalization of marijuana spreading across the country and the pervasive influence of social media, we conducted a new survey of teens to give families a snapshot of what teens are experiencing in an ever-changing landscape as it relates to nicotine, alcohol and other drugs.

Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol & Nicotine: A Survey

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

We wanted to answer questions such as:

  • What sources do teens rely on to get information about substance use?
  • How easy is it to get substances in their communities?
  • Have teens been exposed to illegal drug use in real life? If so, where do they most often see drugs being used?
  • How concerned would they be if they knew a friend was using substances?
  • What are the differences between what young teens think and experience in relation to substance use vs. older teens?
  • Can parents influence teen experimentation and early use?

We created the Parent Companion Guide to the original report of the survey findings, to help break down key findings and translate what that can mean for you and your family.

So What Did Teens Have to Say?

Below is a summary of the report’s findings. Download our Parent Companion Guide to get the details on what teens have said about the topics below and how parents can help protect their teens from substance use.

Where do teens get their information about substances?

The majority of teens (67%) get their information about substances from credible sources, such as parents and school classes, especially younger teens. However, twice as many teens who have at least one friend who uses drugs report less reliable sources as their main sources of information, relative to teens with no friends who use drugs. These 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 wanted to get one or more of those right 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 drugs 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 use of marijuana, where some older teens seem to hold on to the myth that it is safe to ride with someone who had 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, ages 12 to 14, and older teens, ages 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 drugs; 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 they would get in trouble with their parents.

Download the full Parent Companion Guide to the Teen Survey

This guide, a companion piece to the original report of the teen survey findings, helps break down key findings and what that can mean for your family.

Teen Survey Parent Companion