​Trends in Popular Drugs Among Teens

A look at drug use trends and the five classes of drugs teens experiment with: alcohol, opioids, synthetics, marijuana, and hallucinigens.

minute read

Major Drug Trends Nationwide

Drug abuse and addiction among teens have always been major issues in the US, not just for parents but society at large. Just when you thought you had a clue about what teens are getting high on these days, the whole drug scene shifts and changes.

While commonly-used mind-altering substances such as marijuana, hallucinogens and opiates remain popular, there is an influx of increasingly bizarre drugs e.g. synthetic drugs, that are just as dangerous, if not more so. To make matters worse, these drugs are unstudied so their effects are largely unknown.

As a parent, it’s imperative that you learn the current drug trends among teens so you know what drugs you should be mindful of as well as how they can affect your teenagers.

A Mixed Bag of News

Recent findings in teen addiction show that it’s not all gloom and doom.

According to the 2017 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey carried out by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) use of nearly all illicit drugs was at its lowest levels in over two decades. Data from the survey reveals that:

  1. Past-year illicit drug use among 8th graders dropped from a peak of 13.1% in 1996 to 5.8% in 2017.
  2. Among 10th graders, it dropped from 18.4% in 1996 to the current 9.4%.
  3. Drug use prevalence among 12th graders fell from 21.6% in 2001 to 13.3% in 2017.

Additionally, substances like cigarettes, alcohol, ecstasy, Molly, prescription opioids, heroin, meth and sedatives recorded historic low levels of use. Very promising trends, indeed.

A big part of this has to do with availability as the survey also found that most teens think that these drugs are not as easy to get as they used to be. Again, this is good news showing that the campaign against drug abuse seems to be bearing fruit.

On the other hand, the 2017 MTF survey brought to light something that parents should pay particular attention to- the shift in teenage perception of drug use. The study found that teens these days are less likely to identify the occasional use of certain drugs as a risk or problem. This includes substances such as over-the-counter cough or cold medications, ecstasy or bath salts. High school seniors who took part in the survey did not perceive occasional heroin, steroid or cocaine use as being particularly harmful.

This relaxed attitude coupled with the reduced incidence of using some types of substances indicates that while teens nowadays are more open to experimenting with drugs, they might simply opt not to.

New Trends In Teen Drug Use

While actual use of some substances is down, parents shouldn’t relax just yet. Teenagers still remain susceptible to drug abuse and eventual addiction. Some of the substances parents should be mindful of include:


As debate around the legalization of marijuana rages on in the country, teens’ attitudes continue to shift as well. Few teenagers nowadays see marijuana use as harmful and fewer still disapprove of its use. This is largely driven by the popular misconception that marijuana isn’t harmful or addictive. Most teens view weed as harmless fun with no profound side-effects which might explain why marijuana use has overtaken smoking cigarettes in this age group. With more states legalizing its use, parents need to talk to their teens about the risks and legal implications of underage marijuana usage.


Mention substance abuse and most parents’ immediately think of alcohol- for good reason. Alcohol remains the most abused substance among teenagers in the US. Luckily, teens are engaging in a lot less binge drinking these days. Today, the percentage of high school teenagers who report ever taking alcohol has fallen by 60% compared to its peak in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, underage drinking still remains a persistent problem and public health concern in the country. Teenagers who acquire bad drinking habits in their youth often carry them on to adulthood, predisposing these individuals to adverse health problems later in life.


This is another group of drugs that parents should be wary of, given the rising opioid epidemic in the country which has led to an increased number of deaths from accidental overdoses. Teenagers are known to consume opioids recreationally, at times in combination with alcohol placing them at increased risk for overdose, respiratory failure, dependence and addiction. It is worth noting that 60-70% of teens who abuse opioids obtain them illegally from family or friends. Even more reason for parents to discuss the dangers of unauthorized prescription drug use with their teens and also keep their medicine cabinets locked.


Unlike other drugs, hallucinogens have seen a resurgence among young people. The most commonly known ones are LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and “magic mushrooms”. LSD comes in tablet, capsule or liquid form and once ingested causes intense auditory and visual hallucinations that alter an individual’s perception of reality. Certain psychedelic mushrooms, on the other hand, contain compounds that cause hallucinations that can last for up to 12 hours.
Teenagers are often lured into using these drugs by the promise that the substances will “expand the mind” and give a lasting euphoric feeling. Regular use of both LSD and mushrooms can result in psychological dependence that may be difficult to break.

Synthetic Drugs

The use of synthetic drugs is a recent trend that most parents might be unaware of. Synthetic or “designer” drugs are made in labs to mimic the effects of existing drugs. Their manufacture is largely unregulated and they often end up being more potent and unpredictable than the drugs they’re intended to imitate. The most common of these include synthetic cannabinoids (fake weed) and synthetic cathinones (bath salts). These have catchy street names e.g Spice or K2 for the former and White Lightning or Bloom for the latter and can be easily be mistaken for benign substances. To avoid this, it’s important that parents familiarize themselves with these substances, their slang names and their effects.

What Can Parents Do?

You as a parent should pay attention to any inexplicable changes in your teen’s behavior e.g. withdrawal, loss of interest, decline in school work etc., as these could clue you in on your teen’s drug use. But most of all, ensure you spend time with your teens, learning about their lives, discussing substance abuse and addiction as well as outlining your expectations and boundaries to help them make healthy, responsible choices in life.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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