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Drug Use in High School

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has published information related to drug usage of 8th, 10th and 12th graders.


Overall, the report found that illegal drug use was on the rise. That has been attributed to the increasing popularity of marijuana. Actually, use of the drug declined from the late 1990s through the middle of the 2000s. After that marijuana use increased again. For example, in 2007 the results were:

Grade                                   Percent Usage

8th Graders                          5.7%

10th Graders                        14.2%

12th Graders                        18.8%

In 2011:

Grade                                   Percent Usage

8th Graders                           7.2%

10th Graders                         17.6%

12th Graders                         22.6%

History indicates that as risk perception decreases, usage rises. With marijuana, the perception appears to be that it is not dangerous. This may reflect the growing number of states considering or adopting medical marijuana.

In addition to marijuana, a development called synthetic marijuana is a new concern. It contains herbal mixes sprinkled with synthetic cannabinoids. These cause similar effects to THC which is the main active ingredient in marijuana. In 2011, 11.4% of 12th graders reported using it in the past year.


Ecstasy use also appears to be rising among older teens. It increased from 1.4% in 2010 to 2.3% in 2011. Like marijuana, this may be because the drug is not considered as risky as it used to be.

Inhalants, Cocaine and other Drugs

Regarding inhalants, use dropped significantly from 2010 to 2011 among 8th graders from 8.1% to 7.0%. For 10th graders it dropped from 5.7% to 4.5%.

Use of crack cocaine has decreased from 1.4% to 1.0% over the same years. Methamphetamine, hallucinogens and heroin are holding steady.


Overall, use of alcohol amongst high school students has decreased to levels that are the lowest in history.  This downward trend includes the number of high school seniors who reported binge drinking in the prior two weeks to taking the survey. (Note: binge drinking is defined as five drinks in a row.) This has dropped almost one-third since the late 1990s.

All Drugs

Regardless of the statistics, experimentation with drugs and alcohol is common during adolescence. As suggested above, drugs perceived as less risky have a tendency to be used more. Teenagers often do not see the harmful consequences related to drug use and have a tendency to feel indestructible.

Some of the signs teenagers are using drugs include:

Academic Performance: A negative attitude, drop in school performance, absences and possible problems with discipline

Emotional Behavior: Sudden mood changes, irritability, poor judgment, depression and a lackadaisical attitude about life

Family Relations: Withdrawing from family activities, breaking rules like curfew and initiating arguments

Societal Connections: New friends who may be less engaged in traditional home and school values, problems with the law and changes in dress and musical taste

Teenagers can be further nudged into developing serious alcohol and drug problems after high school if they are depressed, have low self esteem or who feel they do not fit in. Also, if their family has a history of substance abuse, it could create problems as the teenager grows into adulthood.

Call the number at the top of the screen or fill out the insurance verification form that appears to the right on every page if you or your teenager needs help with substance abuse.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More