Drugs & Alcohol: A Parent's Worse Nightmare

Get the facts about alcohol and drug use among today's teens.Could your child be at risk?
Scary Statistics
Teen boy in black visor

In 1997, one in ten 12- to 17-year-olds reported using marijuana or hashish in the prior month. One in 20 reported having used some other illicit drug, including cocaine, crack, heroin, or LSD. By the time our teens become seniors in high school, half will have tried an illegal drug.

The picture is even worse when it comes to alcohol use. In 1997, one out of every five 12- to 17-year-olds reported having used alcohol in the previous month. Nearly one in ten reported having engaged in binge drinking. Overall, 80 percent of high school seniors report having used alcohol.

The scary part (if these statistics aren't scary enough) is that the average age of first initiation in the use of alcohol has declined to about 15.7 years old, compared to 17.4 years in 1987. Similar declines are being seen in the average age at the first use of illicit drugs.

And the time between first initiation and the onset of problems is narrowing. In contrast, those who get through age 21 without using drugs or abusing alcohol are virtually certain never to do so.

Cause for Concern

Although most publicity is given to the detrimental and widespread use of illicit drugs, alcohol use exacts the greatest toll on our teens. Motor vehicle accidents, the majority of which involve alcohol use, kill more teenagers than any other single cause of death. In fact, the most likely cause of death for a 16-year-old is alcohol-related.

Compared to teens who don't drink alcohol, teens who do drink are more likely to:

  • Have poor school performance
  • Drop out of high school
  • Experience depression
  • Engage in early and promiscuous sexual activity
  • Have troubled peer relationships

So don't be misled into believing that the use of alcohol or illicit drugs is only a reflection of adolescent angst. The danger is real.

Teens get involved with alcohol and illegal drugs in a number of ways, but the biggest risk factors for adolescent substance abuse include:

  • Being part of a peer group that drinks and does drugs
  • Depression
  • Older siblings who use alcohol and drugs, and encourage their use
  • Academic failure
  • Poor parental monitoring
  • Permissive parental attitudes about adolescents' use of alcohol and illicit drugs

Continued on page 2:  Protective Measures