New National Study: Parents Miss Key Opportunities to Protect Kids from Risks of Substance Use as Teens Grow Older

More than Half of Teens Say it’s Easy to Access Nicotine, Alcohol and Other Drugs

June 19, 2019 NEW YORK – Center on Addiction, a national nonprofit committed to transforming how the nation addresses addiction, released a report today that provides insights into teens’ attitudes about drugs, alcohol and nicotine. The national survey of adolescents aged 12-17 found that drugs, alcohol and nicotine are highly prevalent and accessible in teens’ lives, particularly as they enter high school. Teens also indicated that parents have the largest influence over their decisions and actions. Despite this, parents often pull back right when the risk of substance use spikes.

“These valuable insights underscore the importance of talking with our kids early and having open, honest conversations with them about substance use,” said Creighton Drury, CEO of Center on Addiction. “Our data shows that the vast majority of people with addiction started using substances before they turned 18. That’s why we are passionate about preventing early substance use. Prevention and early interventions ultimately save lives.”

Parents Play Crucial Role in Teens’ Decision Making

Parents want to protect children from substance use as they grow older, but don’t always know how. The fact is, parents and caregivers remain the greatest influence in their kids’ lives.

More than half of teens surveyed (56%) said they believe the most common reason kids their age choose not to drink or use drugs is their parents – either because they think their parents would disapprove, or because they don’t want to get in trouble. In addition, a majority of teens (56%) described their relationship with their parents as “excellent.”

Many parents say they talk with their kids about the risks of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana. However, the survey showed that parents are less likely to discuss with their teens the risks of using other drugs. Despite the fact that the opioid epidemic has affected young people from nearly every community in the nation, less than 60% of teens reported that their parents have talked with them about the risks of misusing heroin, prescription pain relievers or other prescription drugs.

Center on Addiction also found that parents and caregivers should not count on health care professionals to have these conversations with their kids – 78% of teens said their doctor or dentist never talked with them about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs.

The survey found that one in three teens gets information about drugs, alcohol and nicotine from unreliable sources, such as other teens, the Internet or social media.

“It’s clear that there is a rise in teens’ exposure to substances and reliance on untrustworthy information between the ages of 14 and 15, just when the risk for substance use increases,” said Linda Richter, Center on Addiction’s Director of Policy Research and Analysis, who authored the report. “The best way for parents to protect their children is by reducing their exposure to nicotine, alcohol and other drugs, and making sure the information their kids are getting about these substances is credible.”

Substance Use Prevalent in Teens’ Lives; Older Teens at Higher Risk

Nearly 30% of teens disclosed that they have personally seen someone illegally using drugs in real life. Of concern, the most common place these teens observed drug use was on school property.

Center on Addiction examined the differences in responses between older and younger teens, and found that risk factors for substance use increase significantly with age. More 15-17-year-olds than 12-14-year-olds reported:

Access to Addictive Substances is a Major Risk Factor, Especially for Teens with Friends who Use Drugs

When asked how long it would take them to get tobacco/nicotine, alcohol or drugs, more than half of teens said they would be able to get at least one of these substances within a relatively short period of time. Nearly 30% said they could get cigarettes or vaping products within a day or less, and 20% reported they could obtain marijuana within the same period. More than one-third of teens reported they could get alcohol within a day or less.

Access to drugs, alcohol and nicotine is especially high among those with friends who use substances. According to the survey, 53% of teens with at least one friend who uses drugs said they would be able to get marijuana within a day or less, compared to 11% of teens who do not have any friends who use drugs. Those with friends who use drugs also find it much easier to access cigarettes (56% vs. 22%) and e-cigarettes (53% vs. 16%).

This survey was made possible by a grant provided by Quest Diagnostics.

“Quest is dedicated to detecting early drug use and promoting interventions to support the health and well-being of our patients, employees and their families,” said Steve Rusckowski, Chairman, President and CEO of Quest Diagnostics. “A key part of that important work includes helping parents safeguard the health of their kids. We’re proud to collaborate with Center on Addiction to help empower parents to achieve the best health outcomes for their families.”

Quest Diagnostics was not involved in any way in the design or conduct of the survey or in the reporting of the research findings.

Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Offer Free Resources for Parents and Families

Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, which merged in January 2019, offer comprehensive resources and customized services for parents, caregivers or anyone else who plays a supportive role in the life of a young person.

The nonprofit also offers free, downloadable resources to parents and families, including:

Download the full survey:

For help and guidance on how to talk with teens about drugs, alcohol and nicotine, visit

 Survey Methodology:

“Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes toward Addictive Substances,” is Center on Addiction’s latest survey in the nonprofit’s 25+ year history of surveying teens, and the first since merging with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids earlier this year. This report is based on the findings from a nationally representative web-based survey of 1,014 teens aged 12-17 living in the United States and was fielded in early 2018, with support from a grant provided by Quest Diagnostics. About half the sample was female (51%), 49% was aged 12-14 and 51% was aged 15-17. The margin of error is +/- 3.5%.

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