Commonly Abused Drugs Across Age Groups

In each age group, there are certain drugs that are more likely to abused. The reasons for this vary, but most are associated with what is available to that specific age group, the specific influences that are around the person at the time, and what drugs they are exposed to by others.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that drug use can begin as early as the ages of 12 and 13, and maybe even earlier. As time goes on, if the issue of drug and alcohol abuse is not addressed, substance abuse can worsen and progress over the years, and lead to the use of more dangerous, drugs.

It’s important to know not only the signs and symptoms of drug use, but to understand which drugs a person is more likely to abuse depending on their age. This can give a good indication of what they might be at risk of abusing and help parents secure these substances—some of which are likely to be found within the home. Researchers know that the two factors that are involved in the worsening progression of drug and alcohol abuse are biological and environmental, but more is being discovered. The more we can understand about the patterns of drug use in our society, the better.

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How Age Factors in the Abuse of Drugs

Usually, when an individual begins using drugs or alcohol, there is usually an influence that pushes them to begin the behavior. For example, children who grow up in households where there is one or more parent or family member who is abusing drugs and alcohol are more likely to go down the path of drug use. If it’s already in their environment, it is likely that they will begin to use it at a younger age, as well. 

Individuals in high school and college have a high likelihood of starting to abuse available prescriptions that they find in their home or through their peers. Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are especially attractive because many students use them to temporarily increase focus and energy when studying.

In the end, no matter what age a person begins to abuse drugs or alcohol, it is usually because they have a high amount of risk factors, and a low number of protective factors in their lives. Through the decades, drug use has gone up in the United States across all ages and while some of the commonly abused drugs have changed and dangerous drugs have become more readily available, the trends in relation to drug use and age range are, for the most part, still the same.

Most Commonly Abused Drugs in Each Age Group

The most commonly abused drugs in each group are as follows: for those who are of the ages 12-13 and under, the most commonly abused drugs are tobacco, inhalants, marijuana, and prescription drugs. Children who are starting at this young age have been found to be at a high risk to develop addiction problems without help or intervention.

For teenagers—those who are ages 13-18—the most commonly abused drugs are marijuana, prescription drugs (used non-medically or without a prescription), opioids, stimulants, depressants, codeine syrup, syrups containing dextromethorphan, and spice. Once an individual gets into their teen years, more substances become available to them and this most likely has to do with being able to procure drugs from other peers. If an individual begins using opioids in their teen years, they may resort to heroin use eventually, as heroin and other opioid use has sky rocketed in the last couple of years, due to the opioid epidemic.

As for young adults in their college years, the most commonly abused drugs are alcohol and prescription drugs. For adults, generally the most abused drugs are alcohol, prescription drugs, opioids (heroin or other), and cocaine. Of all of the most commonly abused drugs by adults, opioids continue to rise and claim the lives of over 120 individuals a day across the nation.

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Resources for Recovery from Addiction

If you or someone you love has found themselves struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction at any age, please know that there are many resources, and several types of treatment available all over the country, that helps save lives. The type of treatment that is suggested will depend upon the age, frequency, and type of drug and alcohol use that is involved. The best thing that you can do when seeking treatment for yourself or an individual, is reaching out to an addiction specialist.

The SAMHSA website is an extremely helpful resource to use when looking for reputable treatment centers that meet your needs. No matter what age addiction begins, remember that it’s treatable and life can and will get better. The most important thing to remember is that the sooner that help is sought, the better the outcome will be for treatment. We here at A Better Today can also help you and your loved one; our specialists are standing by, ready to help and assist you with finding treatment for yourself or your loved one. Even if we aren’t able to help you, we may be able to direct you to the best possible resources for finding treatment that fits your needs. Don’t wait; call us today!




Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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