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    Teen Insights into Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine: A National Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances

    Published: June 2019

    For over 25 years, Center on Addiction has conducted national surveys of teens with the goal of helping parents better understand the experiences, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of their adolescent children in relation to nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs.

    The findings explored in this report clearly demonstrate that parents and other caregivers continue to be the main source of protection for teenagers who face widespread exposure to, and misinformation about, nicotine, alcohol and other substances, particularly as they enter high school.

    Key Takeaways

    This report examined the differences between responses from older and younger teens, and found that risk factors for substance use increase significantly as they age. This report also found that nearly 30 percent of teens disclosed they have personally witnessed illegal substance use in real life. Of concern, the most common place these teens observed substance use was on school property. Additional findings include the following:

    • Even for teens with many risk factors for substance use, parents continue to have the largest influence over their children’s decisions and actions when it comes to substance use.
    • More than half of teens surveyed (56 percent) said they believe the most common reason some kids their age choose not to drink or use other substances is their parents – either because they think their parents would disapprove, or because they don’t want to get in trouble.
    • A majority of teens (56 percent) described their relationship with their parents as “excellent.”


    For parents:

    • Initiate prevention efforts at a young age.
    • Don’t pull back as teens get older.
    • Be well informed about teens’ exposure to substances.
    • Have frequent, open, honest conversations with teens.
    • Set clear and fair rules, and stick to them.
    • Seek help early for signs of risk.

    Research Methods

    This report presents the findings from a nationally representative, web-based survey of 1,014 teens aged 12-17 living in the United States, and was fielded in early 2018. About half the sample was female (51 percent), while 49 percent was aged 12-14 and 51 percent was aged 15-17. The margin of error is +/- 3.5%.

    This survey was made possible by a grant provided by Quest Diagnostics. Quest Diagnostics was not involved in any way in the design or conduct of the survey or in the reporting of the research findings.

    Last Updated

    November 2023