Healthy Youth Healthy Youth
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

ON THIS PAGE Alcohol Use Illicit Drug Use Prescription & Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse Data & Statistics Science-based Strategies References SEE ALSO Publications Links
Alcohol Use

Alcohol is one of the most widely used drug substances in the world. Alcohol use and binge drinking among our nation’s youth is a major public health problem:

Alcohol is used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs.1 Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 75,000 deaths per year.2 Alcohol is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.3 Among youth, the use of alcohol and other drugs has been linked to unintentional injuries, physical fights, academic and occupational problems, and illegal behavior.4 Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological damage as well as psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.5 Drug use contributes directly and indirectly to the HIV epidemic, and alcohol and drug use contribute markedly to infant morbidity and mortality.5

As of 1988, all states prohibit the purchase of alcohol by youth under the age of 21 years. Consequently, underage drinking is defined as consuming alcohol prior to the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years. Current alcohol use among high school students remained steady from 1991 to 1999 and then decreased from 50% in 1999 to 42% in 2009. In 2009, 24% of high school students reported episodic heavy or binge drinking.6

Zero tolerance laws in all states make it illegal for youth under age 21 years to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system (i.e., with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) ≥0.02 g/dL).7,8 In 2009, 10% of high school students reported driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days when they had been drinking alcohol. In addition, 28% of students reported riding in a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol.6

Alcohol and Public Health: General Information

Illicit Drug Use

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among youth in the United States.9 Current marijuana use decreased from 27% in 1999 to 21% in 2009.6 Current cocaine use increased from 2% in 1991 to 4% in 2001 and then decreased from 2001 (4%) to 2009 (3%).6 Lifetime inhalant use decreased from 20% in 1995 to 12% in 2003 and then remained steady from 2003 (12%) to 2009 (12%).6 Lifetime use of ecstasy among high school students decreased from 11% in 2003 to 7% in 2009.6 Lifetime use of methamphetamines was steady from 1999 (9%) to 2001 (10%) and then decreased to 4% in 2009.6 Lifetime heroin use did not change from 1999 (2%) to 2009 (2%).6 Hallucinogenic drug use decreased from 13% in 2001 to 8% in 2007 and then remained steady from 2007 (8%) to 2009 (8%).6

Prescription & Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

While illicit drug use has declined among youth, rates of nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication remain high.9 Prescription medications most commonly abused by youth include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants.9 In 2009, 20% of U.S. high school students had ever taken a prescription drug, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax, without a doctor’s prescription.6 Teens also misuse OTC cough and cold medications, containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM), to get high.10 Prescription and OTC medications are widely available, free or inexpensive, and falsely believed to be safer than illicit drugs. Misuse of prescription and OTC medications can cause serious health effects, addiction, and death.10,11

Data & Statistics

School Health Policies and Programs Study
SHPPS is a national survey periodically conducted to assess school health policies and programs at the state, district, school, and classroom levels, including those related to alcohol and drug use.

Alcohol and Other Drug Use Prevention [pdf 139K]

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
The YRBSS monitors behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States.

Alcohol and Other Drug Use (in Youth Online) Alcohol Use Trends, 1991-2009 [pdf 92K] Marijuana, Cocaine, and Other Illegal Drug Use Trends, 1991-2009 [pdf 101K] Tobacco, Alcohol, and Illegal Drug Use on School Property Trends, 1991-2009 [pdf 92k] Science-based Strategies

Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT). The Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) can help school districts, schools, and others conduct a clear, complete, and consistent analysis of health education curricula based on the National Health Education Standards and CDC’s Characteristics of Effective Health Education Curricula. The HECAT results can help schools select or develop appropriate and effective health education curricula and improve the delivery of health education to address alcohol use, drug use, and other health education topics. The HECAT can be customized to meet local community needs and conform to the curriculum requirements of the state or school district.

Registries of Programs Effective in Reducing Youth Risk Behaviors. Various federal agencies have identified youth-related programs that they consider worthy of recommendation based on expert opinion or a review of design and research evidence. These programs focus on different health topics, risk behaviors, and settings including alcohol and other drug use.

School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth. Students who feel connected to school believe that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. When students feel connected to school, they are less likely to engage in a variety of risk behaviors, including alcohol and drug use. Connected students are also more likely to have higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance, and stay in school longer. This document provides school administrators and teachers with strategies they can use to enhance school connectedness among students.