Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances | Center on Addiction

Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances

Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances

Published: June 2019

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BACKGROUND

For over 25 years, Center on Addiction has conducted national surveys of teens with the goal of helping parents better understand the experiences, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of their adolescent children in relation to nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs.

The findings explored in this report, Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances, clearly demonstrate that parents and other caregivers continue to be the main source of protection for teenagers who face widespread exposure to, and misinformation about, nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs, particularly as they enter high school.

Among the many encouraging findings from this survey are that teens generally feel a very strong bond with their parents and other caregivers and look to them for information and support when it comes to substance use. This is critical as we also learned that, for many teens, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs are a normal part of their everyday lives.

METHOD

This report presents 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. 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%.

This survey was made possible by a grant provided by Quest Diagnostics. Quest Diagnostics was not involved in any way in the design or conduct of the survey or in the reporting of the research findings.

KEY FINDINGS

Nearly 30% of teens disclosed they have personally witnessed illegal drug use in real life. Of concern, the most common place these teens observed drug use was on school property.

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

  • Having a few close friends who engage in substance use. Twice as many older teens said their close friends use substances (61% vs. 29%).
  • Having at least a few close friends who drink beer (44% vs. 20%) or other alcohol (39% vs. 17%), smoke cigarettes (37% vs. 20%) or vape (39% vs. 16%), use marijuana (40% vs. 16%) or misuse prescription drugs (12% vs. 7%).
  • Knowing someone who is addicted to nicotine (44% vs. 36%), alcohol (30% vs. 24%), marijuana (31% vs. 15%) or prescription pain relievers (10% vs. 4%).
  • Not being worried, regardless of how often a friend used e-cigarettes (28% vs. 16%) or marijuana (17% vs. 9%).
  • Being able to obtain illicit drugs like heroin (8% vs. 3%), cocaine (10% vs. 2%), and methamphetamine (9% vs. 2%) easily within a day if they wanted.

The survey found that even for teens with many risk factors for substance use, parents continue to have the largest influence over their children’s decisions and actions when it comes to substance use. More than half of teens surveyed (56%) said they believe the most common reason some 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.”

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