Nine out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18, according to a national study released in 2011 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem reveals that adolescence is the critical period for the initiation of substance use and its consequences. The CASA report finds 1 in 4 Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 are addicted, compared to 1 in 25 Americans who started using at age 21 or older.

Adolescent Substance Use at Epidemic Levels:

The CASA report underscores the fact that addiction is a disease with adolescent origins. The underdeveloped teen brain makes it likelier that teens will take risks, including using addictive substances that interfere with brain development, impair judgment and heighten their risk of addiction.

The CASA report reveals that:

  • 75 percent (10 million) of all high school students have used addictive substances including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine; 1 in 5 of them meets the medical criteria for addiction.
  • 46 percent (6.1 million) of all high school students currently use addictive substances; 1 in 3 of them meets the medical criteria for addiction.

“Teen substance use is our nation’s number one public health problem. Smoking, drinking and using other drugs while the brain is still developing dramatically hikes the risk of addiction and other devastating consequences,” said Jim Ramstad, Former Member of Congress (MN-3) and a CASA board member who also chaired the report’s National Advisory Commission.

The CASA report noted that alcohol is the preferred addictive substance among high school students:

  • 72.5 percent have drunk alcohol;
  • 46.3 percent have smoked cigarettes;
  • 36.8 percent have used marijuana;
  • 14.8 percent have misused controlled prescription drugs; and
  • 65.1 percent have used more than one substance.

“Addiction is a disease that in most cases begins in adolescence so preventing or delaying teens from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs for as long as possible is crucial to their health and safety,” said Susan Foster, CASA’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis. “We rightfully worry about other teen health problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in fact prevent.”


While parents may say, “I trust my child wouldn’t lie to me about taking drugs,” the reality is, drug abusing teenagers lie.

How can you tell if your child is taking drugs? “A Parent’s Guide to Prevention” published by the US Department of Education says:

“Young people use drugs for many reasons that have to do with how they feel about themselves, how they get along with others, and how they live. No one factor determines who will use drugs and who will not, but here are some things to watch for:

  • Low grades or poor school performance
  • Aggressive, rebellious behavior
  • Excessive influence by peers
  • Lack of parental support and guidance
  • Behavior problems at an early age

Being alert to the sign of alcohol and other drug use requires a keen eye.”

Drug Use Statistics and Legal Liabilities of Parents
  • 60% of youngsters who use marijuana before age 15 go on to use cocaine.
  • Columbia University has found that kids who smoke marijuana are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than their non-marijuana smoking peers.
  • Average age for kids to begin experimenting with illegal substances is 13.
  • The potency of marijuana THC levels today is 15-20 times stronger than marijuana in the 1970′s.
  • On average, kids found by their parents to be using drugs, have been using for two years prior to discovery.
  • Most medical insurance policies have a clause that allows them to not pay a medical claim “if there is an illegal substance in the system, or an illegal act is being performed at the time of the loss.” Parents can be held legally responsible for those bills.
  • Several states are enacting Parental Responsibility Laws in which the parent is held responsible for the behavior of the child.
  • If a child brings any amount of a controlled substance into their parent’s home or auto, the parent could have that home or auto seized by the federal government, regardless of having no knowledge of their child’s behavior.
  • Average cost of drug rehabilitation is $20,000-$30,000 a month, with few medical insurers paying anything on such a claim.
  • One in five American teenagers have used inhalants to get high.