Kids walking down the hallway of a school. (Photo: Center on Addiction)

New National Study: Parents Miss Key Opportunities to Protect Kids from Risks of Substance Use as Teens Grow Older

Kids walking down the hallway of a school. (Photo: Center on Addiction)

NEW YORK — Center on Addiction, a national nonprofit committed to transforming how the nation addresses addiction, released a report today that provides insights into teens’ attitudes about drugs, alcohol and nicotine.

The national survey of adolescents aged 12-17 found that drugs, alcohol and nicotine are highly prevalent and accessible in teens’ lives, particularly as they enter high school. Teens also indicated that parents have the largest influence over their decisions and actions. Despite this, parents often pull back right when the risk of substance use spikes.

“These valuable insights underscore the importance of talking with our kids early and having open, honest conversations with them about substance use,” said Creighton Drury, CEO of Center on Addiction.

“Our data shows that the vast majority of people with addiction started using substances before they turned 18. That’s why we are passionate about preventing early substance use. Prevention and early interventions ultimately save lives.”

Parents Play Crucial Role in Teens’ Decision Making

Parents want to protect children from substance use as they grow older, but don’t always know how. The fact is, parents and caregivers remain the greatest influence in their kids’ lives.

More than half of teens surveyed (56%) said they believe the most common reason kids their age choose not to drink or use drugs is their parents – either because they think their parents would disapprove, or because they don’t want to get in trouble. In addition, a majority of teens described their relationship with their parents as “excellent.” Many parents say they talk with their kids about the risks of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.

However, the survey showed that parents are less likely to discuss with their teens the risks of using other drugs. Despite the fact that the opioid epidemic has affected young people from nearly every community in the nation, less than 60% of teens reported that their parents have talked with them about the risks of misusing heroin, prescription pain relievers or other prescription drugs.

Center on Addiction also found that parents and caregivers should not count on healthcare professionals to have these conversations with their kids – 78 percent of teens said their doctor or dentist never talked with them about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs.

The survey found that one in three teens gets information about drugs, alcohol and nicotine from unreliable sources, such as other teens, the internet or social media.

Substance Use Prevalent in Teens’ Lives; Older Teens at Higher Risk

Nearly 30 percent of teens disclosed that they have personally seen someone illegally using drugs in real life. Of concern, the most common place these teens observed drug use was on school property.

Center on Addiction examined the differences in responses between older and younger teens, and found that risk factors for substance use increase significantly with age.

Access to Addictive Substances is a Major Risk Factor, Especially for Teens with Friends who Use Drugs

When asked how long it would take them to get tobacco/nicotine, alcohol or drugs, more than half of teens said they would be able to get at least one of these substances within a relatively short period of time.

Nearly 30 percent said they could get cigarettes or vaping products within a day or less, and 20 percent reported they could obtain marijuana within the same period. More than one-third of teens reported they could get alcohol within a day or less.

Access to drugs, alcohol and nicotine is especially high among those with friends who use substances. According to the survey, 53 percent of teens with at least one friend who uses drugs said they would be able to get marijuana within a day or less, compared to 11 percent of teens who do not have any friends who use drugs.

Those with friends who use drugs also find it much easier to access cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

This survey was made possible by a grant provided by Quest Diagnostics.

Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Offer Free Resources for Parents and Families

Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, which merged in January 2019, offer comprehensive resources and customized services for parents, caregivers or anyone else who plays a supportive role in the life of a young person.

  • Parent Helpline – connects parents and caregivers directly with a trained and caring specialist ready to listen and help families find answers, with support available in English and Spanish.
  • Help & Hope by Text – provides customized mobile messages with personalized, ongoing support and relevant resources on how to best help a child either experimenting or struggling with drug or alcohol use – all sent via text straight to a parent’s or caregiver’s cell phone.
  • Parent Coaching – pairs parents seeking help for their child’s substance use issues with another specially-trained parent volunteer who has also traveled the path of dealing with a child’s substance use and addiction.

Download the full survey here:

For help and guidance on how to talk with teens about drugs, alcohol and nicotine, visit