Cumulative Trauma Disorder(CTD)

the effects of teen drug use on academic performance

Learn about risk factors, prevention, and how to end the cycle of drug abuse in teens.

An Introduction to Drug Use with Teens

In the United States, teen drug use is on the rise. Substance use among teenagers has become a major social issue in recent years, and we must understand more about how drug abuse affects academic performance. Drug addiction can lead to poor grades, low self-esteem, memory challenges, attention deficits, and poor social skills.

These side effects cause difficulties making friends or feeling accepted at school. If you are a parent who notices changes in your teen’s behavior or has seen signs of drug use, it is crucial to understand the risk factors. This blog post will explore how drug abuse impacts academics and how parents can prevent teens from using drugs and alcohol.

Common Drugs That Teens Use

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcohol and tobacco are the two most common substances teens abuse. Marijuana is also commonly abused by teenagers. After these top three substances, the popularity or most frequently used drugs differ based on age group.

Younger adolescents are more likely to inhale substances such as household cleaners or glues. Older adolescents report more use of synthetic marijuana, commonly called K2 or Spice. Older teens also commonly abuse prescription medications, including opioids (Vicodin) and stimulants (Adderall).1

Drug Use Statistic in Teens

Data published by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that at least one in every eight teenagers abused an illicit substance within the past year. From 2016 to 2020, substance use among eighth-graders increased 61%. By the twelfth grade, 62% of teenagers had abused alcohol.

Data demonstrated that 50% of teenagers reported misusing a drug at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, "86% of teenagers know someone who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during the school day."2 Teen drug abuse is an incredibly frightening public health issue that we must address. Education and awareness are vital in preventing drug and alcohol misuse.

Teenagers misuse a drug
Abused alcohol by twelfth grade

Causes of Teens Using Drugs

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are the five main reasons why teens and adolescents experiment with drugs and alcohol:3

  1. To fit in (peer pressure, social acceptance)
  2. To feel good (activate pleasure pathways in the brain)
  3. To feel better (stress, mental health, physical pain)
  4. To do better (enhance athletic or academic performance)
  5. To experiment (thrill-seeking, new experiences)


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mental health diagnosis that affects teens and adolescents. The connection between teen drug abuse and depression can be a vicious cycle with severe consequences for academic performance, social interactions, and the future of the teen's life. Teen substance use commonly occurs alongside mental health diagnoses such as mood, anxiety, behavioral, and learning disorders.

Teens entering treatment for substance use should always receive a comprehensive behavioral health assessment (including mental health). Research has shown that substance use and mental health disorders must be addressed simultaneously for treatment to be effective.4


A teen's environment plays a pivotal role in their risk for drug abuse. Teens who have easy access to drugs and alcohol are at greater risk of addiction. Greater accessibility of drugs and alcohol poses a severe threat to teen drug abuse, and education for teens and parents is imperative. Open communication between parents and teens, along with safe medication storage and disposal, can save children's lives.5

Prescription Drug Misuse

Studies have shown that one out of every four teens believes that prescription drugs are safe to use as a study aid. One out of three parents believes ADHD medications can improve their teen's academic performance, even if their child does not have a diagnosis of ADHD. It is never safe for teens to use medicines if they do not have a prescription.5

What Are The Signs of Drug Abuse in Teens?

Teen Drug Use

Signs of drug abuse in teens can include shifts in mood, personality changes, behavioral cues, changes in hygiene or appearance, and physical health signs. Parents must not overlook warning signs as typical teenage behavior, and open and honest communication is paramount.6

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral signs of drug abuse in teens include:

  • Changed relationships (friends and family)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Poor attendance at work or school
  • Locked doors
  • Secretive behavior
  • Periods of high energy followed by extended periods of sleep

If parents are concerned and notice changes in behavior, it is essential to communicate with the teen and seek professional guidance.6

Physical Signs

Physical health cues to keep an eye on when screening for drug abuse include:6

  • Frequent illness
  • Slurred or rapid speech
  • Nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Skin bruising
  • Vomiting
  • Exhaustion

Risks of Drug Use

Teen drug use poses many risks for adolescents regarding academic challenges, physical and mental health problems, poor social relationships, and legal involvement. Teen substance use can also result in consequences for the youth’s family, community, and society.

Effects of Drugs on The Developing Brain

Neurological development and severe mental health problems can result from teen substance abuse. Mental health challenges can include depression, developmental delays, anxiety, personality disorders, and suicidal ideation. Research has shown that marijuana use can be detrimental to a teen's short-term memory, learning abilities, and psychomotor skills.7

Effects of Drug Use On The Body

Drug misuse by teens significantly increases their risk of death from illness, accidents, homicide, or suicide. Teen substance abuse can lead to risky behaviors such as driving under the influence or unsafe sexual practices.7

Effects on Social Life

Teen drug use is detrimental in terms of social acceptance and interaction with peers. It is common for substance-abusing youth to disengage from clubs, sports, and activities at school. Lack of engagement can then lead to social alienation and stigmatization by peers.7

Effects on Academics

Lower grades, poor attendance, and an increased likelihood of dropout before graduation are all associated with teen substance abuse. The physical and behavioral health effects of teen drug misuse can be an obstacle to academic success.7

How To Prevent Teens From Using Drugs?

The adolescent brain can be changed and altered following alcohol or prescription drug use (non-prescribed). Changes in the teenage brain increase the likelihood of becoming addicted or experiencing other serious problems stemming from substance use.8

Family Support

Teens need a solid support system to help them resist peer pressure. Families must have open discussions and set boundaries about teen drug use and alcohol consumption.

Medical Help

If a parent identifies possible signs of teen drug use, the next step is to consult with the teen's primary care provider, school social worker, or a drug rehab facility. Addiction and substance use can escalate quickly.

Inpatient drug rehabs and outpatient drug rehabs can provide treatment for substance use and co-occurring mental health. For adolescents actively using drugs or alcohol, drug addiction detox may be medically necessary too. A comprehensive assessment is the best way to identify what behavioral health treatment a teen needs.

Drug Addiction Treatment for Teens

Treatment programs for teen drug use should be person-centered and evidence-based. Drug rehab facility professionals can assess and design an individualized plan that will best meet teenage needs, including inpatient and outpatient care. Many effective treatments are available to teens diagnosed with substance use disorders, including behavioral family therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Drug rehab facility prescribers may also utilize medication management to treat teen drug use.9

Behavioral Family Therapy

Behavioral family therapy provides teens with the opportunity to learn how their drug use affects others. This type of therapy teaches teen participants about healthy and unhealthy relationships. In addition, behavioral family therapy can help teens build a support system at home that will discourage them from using drugs or alcohol.9


Cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses teen drug use by helping adolescents recognize, avoid, and cope with high-risk situations where they are most likely to use or relapse. This form of therapy is available at inpatient drug rehab and outpatient drug rehab. 9


Outpatient drug rehab treatment programs can include individual therapy, group therapy, or a combination of the two. For teens with severe substance use disorders, the adolescent may need to complete drug addiction detox or inpatient drug rehab before entering outpatient services. 9


Inpatient drug rehab or residential treatment provides twenty-four-hour intensive care for teens with severe substance use and mental health (if needed). Inpatient rehab offers a highly structured that benefits those struggling with drug and alcohol misuse. Removing a teen from their environment and social influences can potentially interrupt substance use and behavioral patterns.9

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) is a form of treatment that can provide adolescents with the skills needed to avoid drugs and substance misuse in the future. Trained clinicians use motivational interviewing to address adolescents' readiness to change and receive treatment for their substance use. Clinicians will also suggest coping skills for high-risk or triggering situations.10


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