Substances Commonly Used by Youth


Due to the fact that alcohol is legal and therefore in many homes, it is readily available and more easily accessed by adolescents.  Because of the fact that it is societally accepted and viewed very differently than many illegal drugs, many adolescents have a very low perception of risk related to alcohol.  This combination of accessibility and low perception of risk makes it a very popular choice for adolescents, making it the substance that many kids will try first.

The dangers involved with alcohol use by youth include binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, impaired decision making, more risk taking behavior, and interference with brain development.

Signs and symptoms of use: see our “Signs and Symptoms of Drug or Alcohol Use” page.


Puff Bar disposable E-cigarette



For years, nicotine has commonly been one of the first drugs used by adolescents.  However, years ago, teens were typically using nicotine in the form of tobacco.  In more recent years, cigarettes have been replaced by E-cigarettes and vapes.  As with alcohol, nicotine in the form of E-cigarettes and vapes is easily accessed by teens.  Some are able to have older students purchase for them, and one study found that kids are successful buying E-cigarettes online 94% of the time.  Also like alcohol, many adolescents have a low perception of risk related to E-cigarettes and vaping.

The dangers involved with nicotine use by youth include addiction, interference with brain development, and problems with memory, attention, and learning.

More detailed information is available on our page Vaping and E-Cigarettes: What Parents Should Know.


Marijuana bud


Marijuana/THC (dabs, wax, BHO, etc.)

Like alcohol and nicotine, marijuana is also a substance that has long been popular with adolescents and among the substances most commonly used first by youth.  However, just as the method of use for nicotine has changed, so has the method of use for THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), one of the many active ingredients in marijuana, but the one most responsible for the “high” sought out by kids.  Years ago, parents would be looking for buds like the one you see above.  In more recent years, THC use is more commonly taking the form of vaped THC concentrates called dabs, wax, shatter, BHO (butane hash oil), etc.  The example of a wax/dab pen and dabs below are what parents are more likely to run across now.

In recent years, as teens’ perception of risk related to THC has decreased, use has increased.  In fact, while teen use of a number of other substances has lessened recently, use of THC by youth has continued to climb.  Many adolescents falsely believe that use of THC is harmless, or even beneficial.  When it comes to use by youth, there are consequences however.

The dangers involved with use by youth include interference with brain development, decreased motivation, decreased academic performance, and problems with memory, attention, and learning.

Signs and symptoms of use: see our “Signs and Symptoms of Drug or Alcohol Use” page.


Dabs – THC concentrate

Dabs or wax pen


Prescription Drugs (opioid painkillers, stimulants, sedatives, etc.)

A “Monitoring The Future” study by NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) found that after alcohol, nicotine, and THC, 12th graders in the U.S. were most commonly moving to misusing prescription drugs.  In misusing them, they’re taking prescription drugs they’ve not been prescribed by a doctor, or they’re taking them in too large of quantities or too frequently.  Like some of the other substances on this list, the common misuse of prescription drugs by youth owes a lot to availability and low perception of risk.

Many households have prescription drugs that have potential for misuse by youth.  These drugs are commonly prescribed and are often not secured in the home.  This accessibility leads to more common use by youth.  And once again, low perception of risk is involved.  When it comes to prescription drugs, many youth note the fact that a doctor prescribes them, they’re made in regulated conditions, a pharmacy dispenses them, and productive members of society take them.  This combination causes adolescents to view them as much safer than street drugs.  However, when they are misused, they can be as deadly as any street drug.

The dangers involved with use by youth include overdose (including fatal overdoses), addiction, serious withdrawal symptoms, and the potential for youth to combine prescription drugs with other prescription drugs or with alcohol.  That combination is incredibly dangerous and can lead to fatalities.  One study cited by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) indicated that more than 1/3 of youth misusing prescription drugs in Arizona were creating such a combination.

More detailed information is available on our blog entry “Opioid Misuse: The Epidemic Within a Pandemic.”


Prescription painkillers


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