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Back to School: The Scope of Substance Abuse in High Schools Today



The drug epidemic among high schoolers is increasing, and it’s time for parents to act. 

Research says that roughly 45% of students in grades 9-12 have abused drugs or alcohol sometime during the past year. Now, some of these teens are vaping as well – which makes them more susceptible to addiction than ever before. 

So, what can you do about this growing menace? First off: get informed! Then start talking with your kids about the dangers of substance abuse — so they can make healthier choices when it comes to their health and wellbeing.


Table of Contents

War on Drugs

The War on Drugs was a monumental failure. Even after decades of spending billions of dollars, it has failed to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country. In fact, drugs are still readily available and cheap. 

Opioid overdoses in particular have been on the rise over the last decade or so, and opioids are still one of the most commonly abused substances among youth as well as adults.

Drugs remain one of the world’s most profitable industries despite attempts at regulation by governments around the world—and they’re even more profitable than we thought! 

A new study estimates that worldwide drug sales total more than $300 billion per year, which is about equal to what Netflix makes each year from streaming services alone (about $11B).


Illegal drug use and abuse on the rise

While the teenage years are often a time of experimentation and rebellion, substance abuse among young people has never been higher. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), rates of illicit drug use in middle school students were highest around 1993 and have slowly increased since then. 

They reached an all-time high in 2006 at 8% before dropping slightly over the next few years.

Illicit drug use was reported at 5% among elementary school students in 2003—the year when it peaked. In 2012, NIDA reported that just 1% had used drugs within 30 days before being surveyed.

The rate at which college students report abusing illicit substances has also increased dramatically since 1999 from 19% to 25%. 

This increase is tied directly to rising marijuana usage rates; however, cocaine and methamphetamine abuse has seen slight decreases over time.


High school graduates are turning to drugs

In the past decade, drug use has been on the rise among high school students. While there are many factors contributing to this trend, it’s clear that teens and young adults are more likely than ever before to abuse substances.

This is especially true for teenagers who are graduating from high school and moving on to college life. 

Because they’re away from home for the first time in their lives, these young adults can be more vulnerable to substance abuse than ever before—and if they don’t have early support systems in place, it could lead to disastrous consequences down the road.


Vaping is a serious threat

As you may have heard, vaping is a serious threat to our youth. It’s a gateway drug; if you don’t believe me, just ask any teenager who’s been vaping for a while. 

And it is an epidemic of epic proportions that has reached every corner of this country and beyond, with kids as young as 11 getting hooked on nicotine and high-nicotine e-cigarettes. 

The numbers are staggering: according to a recent study by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), more than 1 in 6 high schoolers vaped at least once in 2018 alone – an increase from less than 1 in 10 just four years earlier.

And while there may be some good news on the horizon – like states trying to pass laws banning flavored e-cigarettes or limiting who can sell them – most experts agree that it will take years before we see any real impact on this public health crisis.


How can you save your kids?

If you are a parent, teacher, or mentor to a child who may be at risk for drug use, there are certain things that you can do.

  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of drug abuse. They need to know that going down this path can have devastating consequences on their lives and the lives of those around them.
  • Be involved in their lives as much as possible. Try not to hover over them or hover too far away either; having an open line of communication between yourself and your children will help ensure that they feel comfortable coming to you if they need help with anything.
  • Set boundaries and stick by them! If something bothers or concerns you about your child’s behavior or attitude while at home (or anywhere else), address it immediately instead of waiting until later when it might be too late already! Don’t let anything slide under the rug because nothing gets solved either way — which leads us right back to where I started this article: people dying from an overdose. After all, no one took action fast enough when needed most.”


Parents need to be involved, know the signs, and be willing to have honest conversations about drug abuse with their teenagers

With vaping being a serious threat to our children, parents need to be aware of the dangers. Vaping is a gateway to smoking. 

It can be addictive and used as a way for big tobacco companies to market their products to teenagers. In addition, vaping allows them to get around regulations by selling electronic devices instead of cigarettes or cigars.

Parents must have honest conversations with their teens about substance abuse and know the signs if they see something troubling happening with their child’s behavior at school or home.



If you’re a parent or teacher, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of your kids using drugs. 

Educate yourself about what drugs look and smell like so that you can recognize them in their original packaging or samples when brought home from school. 

Stay aware of how much time your teenager spends with friends who smoke, drink alcohol, or abuse prescription medications because these people could also influence them into trying drugs.


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