New Study: 15% of US Teens Abuse Substances

By Valerie Tejeda 04/03/12

Researchers say starting before the age of 18 often leads to a lifetime of addiction.

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15% of teens get a head start on addiction.
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More than 15% of teenagers meet the criteria for substance abuse by the time they're 18, according to researchers. The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, surveyed 10,123 US teens between 13 to 18 years old. The results showed that four of five teenagers have tried alcohol and over 15% were abusing booze. Regarding drugs, 60% admit they have had the opportunity to use illicit substances such as painkillers, tranquilizers, cocaine, stimulants, and marijuana—16% of teens qualify as drug abusers. "It's in adolescence that the onset of substance abuse disorders occurs for most individuals," says Joel Swendsen, lead research author and director of research at the National Center of Scientific Research in Bordeaux, France. "That's where the roots take place." Many health professionals are alarmed by the survey’s results, especially due to the fact the teens brains are still in development: "The reason we worry about it is that the earlier they use these substances the earlier they become addicted to it," says Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York. "There's really a type of rewiring that goes on with continued use than can result in an increased interest in using and an inability to stop using.”

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Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including but not limited to: VanityFair, MTV, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, She Knows, Latina, The Fix,, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Valerie on Linkedin and Twitter.