Drug Facts - Juveniles & Drugs


Although recent trends in youth drug use have shown the first significant downturn in usage levels, they remain at high levels and it has been shown that the earlier drug use is initiated, the more likely a person is to develop drug problems later in life.

Youth substance abuse can lead to many other problems, including the development of delinquent behavior, anti-social attitudes, and health-related issues. These problems not only affect the child, but can also influence the child's family, community, and ultimately society.

Extent of Use

Recent trends in youth drug use have shown a significant downturn in usage levels. However, reducing youth drug use remains a key component of the President's National Drug Control Strategy because studies have demonstrated that the earlier drug use is initiated, the more likely a person is to develop drug problems later in life.

According to the 2008 Monitoring the Future study, 19.6% of eighth graders, 34.1% of tenth graders, and 47.4% of twelfth graders reported using any illicit drug within their lifetimes.

According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 38% of high school students surveyed nationwide used marijuana during their lifetime.

According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, youths who participated in activities during the past year were less likely to have used drugs in the past month than youths who did not participate in activities. Among youths aged 12 to 17 who participated in two or more youth activities (for example, band, sports, student government, or dance lessons), 10.4% had used an illicit drug in the past month. Among youths indicating one or no youth activities in the past year, 17.9% reported past month illicit drug use.

Health Effects

Persistent substance abuse by young people often leads to academic difficulties, health-related problems (including mental health), poor peer relationships, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, there are consequences for family members, the community, and the entire society.

Mental health problems, including depression, developmental lags, apathy, withdrawal, and other psychosocial dysfunctions, are frequently linked to substance abuse among adolescents. Substance-abusing youth are at higher risk than nonusers for mental health problems, including depression, conduct problems, personality disorders, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, and suicide. Marijuana use, which is prevalent among youth, has been shown to interfere with short-term memory, learning, and psychomotor skills. Motivation and psychosexual/emotional development also may be influenced.

Substance abuse among youth has also been strongly linked to delinquency. Arrest, adjudication, and intervention by the juvenile justice system are eventual consequences for many youth engaged in alcohol and other drug use. Substance abuse does not directly cause delinquent behavior, and delinquency does not directly cause alcohol and other drug use. However, the two behaviors are strongly correlated and often bring about school and family problems, involvement with negative peer groups, a lack of neighborhood social controls, and physical or sexual abuse.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) study reports the number of people seeking emergency department (ED) treatment related to illegal drug use or non-medical use of legal drugs. In 2006, ED drug-related episodes for persons ages 12 to 17 were estimated to be 58,428. Of these episodes, marijuana was mentioned 44,088 times; cocaine was mentioned 10,984 times; stimulants were mentioned 7,740 times; and MDMA (Ecstasy) was mentioned 4,524 times.


In 2006, there were 2.1 million youths aged 12 to 17 (8.2% of this population) who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem. Of this group, only 181,000 youths received treatment at a specialty facility (approximately 8.7% of youths who needed treatment), leaving 1.9 million youths who needed treatment for a substance use problem but did not receive it at a specialty facility. "Specialty" treatment is defined as treatment received at any of the following types of facilities: hospitals (inpatient only), drug/alcohol rehabilitation facilities (inpatient or outpatient), or mental health centers. It does not include treatment at an emergency room, private doctor's office, self-help group, prison or jail, or hospital as an outpatient.

During 2006, approximately 7.7% of the drug/alcohol admissions to treatment facilities in the U.S. involved individuals ages 17 and younger. Among the individuals ages 15 and younger admitted to treatment during 2006, 61.2% were being treated for primary abuse of inhalants.

Arrests & Sentencing

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 109,444 juveniles (under the age of 18) arrested by state and local law enforcement agencies for drug abuse violations during 2007, representing approximately 10.6% of all drug arrests in which the offender's age was reported.

During FY 2004, 1.9% (526) of those arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were under the age of 19. Of the DEA arrests involving those under age 19, there were 97 arrests involving powder cocaine, 103 arrests involving crack cocaine, 150 arrests involving marijuana, 94 arrests involving methamphetamine, 39 arrests involving opiates, and the remaining 43 arrests involved some other type of drug or were for a non-drug reason.

According to preliminary data from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program, a median of 59.7% of male juvenile detainees and 45.9% of female juvenile detainees tested positive for drug use in 2002. The male samples were compiled from 5 U.S. sites and the female samples were compiled from 4 sites.

In 2004, juvenile courts in the United States handled an estimated 193,700 delinquency cases in which a drug offense was the most serious charge. Between 1991 and 2004, the number of cases involving drug offenses that juvenile courts handled more than doubled. Drug offense cases accounted for 12% of the delinquency caseload in 2004, compared with 7% in 1985.

According to a one day census of juvenile offenders in residential placement on October 27, 1999 there were 9,882 juvenile offenders in custody for drug offenses. Almost one third of the juvenile drug offenders were in residential placement for drug trafficking.

Taken from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Website.