Summertime Associated with Highest Risk for Teen Drug Use

Teenagers sit by a fire

A 2020 research paper examined rates of first-time drug use among young people in a previous year. They found that, while millions of Americans use drugs for the first time each year and do so during all months and seasons, people – especially young people – were most likely to try drugs for the first time during summer.

What the Findings Show

The Journal of General Internal Medicine published an important paper by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine and Columbia University. The researchers sought to examine how many Americans use drugs for the first time each year, what types of substances they use, and when they use them. The researchers examined questionnaire answers and research data from 40,000 Americans surveyed in 2017 to arrive at their findings.

According to the data, 2017 saw approximately 3,033,000 people use cannabis for the first time, 1,037,000 use cocaine, 794,000 use LSD, and 787,000 use ecstasy/MDMA/Molly. Upon further examination, the researchers found that the summer months had slightly higher rates of first-time drug use for all age groups. About 30% of cannabis users used the drug for the first time during summer, 27% for cocaine users, 34% for LSD users, and 30% for ecstasy users. Despite summertime comprising just 25% of the year, the season saw first-time use for many drug types at rates greater than 25%.

Teenagers smoking marijuana on steps

Similar trends were noted among young people but with even higher percentages of first-time use occurring in the summer. The study authors posited that the summer offers more idle time, more opportunities for social activities, frequent outdoor dance festivals and parties, and other activities and group-oriented social settings that may increase exposure to drugs or to peers who may be using drugs.

What Parents Can Do

Young people are at particularly high risk for experimenting with drugs and alcohol. As core features of adult thinking like good judgment and risk assessment do not develop until one is in their mid-20s, the late teens and early 20s are when one is most likely to take risks and explore new, potentially dangerous experiences. Also, this is a terrible time to use drugs – not that there is any “good” time – because early-in-life use of drugs and alcohol dramatically increases a person’s chances of becoming addicted.

Thankfully, there are several steps parents can take to protect their teens from first-time drug use:

1). Talk about it. A parent’s best tool for preventing drug experimentation is communication. Parents should avoid lectures and scare tactics. They should avoid being “preachy.” Rather, they should have a dialogue with their teen son or daughter about drugs and alcohol, listen more than they speak, and try to understand what the teen son or daughter is saying and feeling about drugs and alcohol and get their thoughts and feelings about those who may be trying to convince them they should experiment and “have an open mind.”

Parents educate daughter on drugs harm

2). Seek to inform, not stereotype. Parents should keep their discussions with their teens fact-based, relying simply on the plentiful and clear evidence on how drugs cause harm and pose risks for serious physical and mental consequences.

3). Return to the issue. Having a conversation about drug and alcohol experimentation should not be a one-time thing. Parents should return to the conversation again and again, beginning at an early age and carrying forward as the son or daughter grows up.

4). Know what’s happening in their life. Parents should pay close attention to their teens’ whereabouts and who they spend time with. Parents should also encourage their teens to become involved in adult-supervised activities that interest them, such as sports, art groups, or clubs.

5). Teach them how to handle peer pressure. One of the main underlying issues that leads teens to drug use is peer pressure to “join the group” and experiment. Parents should help their teens create strategies for extricating themselves from peer pressure situations. Parents should also play a role in who their teens spend time with.

6). Praise teens when they succeed. Praise and validation are just as important as one-on-one talks, education, and peer pressure discussions. When teens succeed in their goals, they are less likely to fall down the path toward substance abuse. When their parents praise them for their success and the family celebrates their victories, they are even less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

When a Teen Son or Daughter Is Already Using Drugs

Despite parents’ best efforts, some teens will go on to use drugs and alcohol. Some will become addicted to those substances. When that happens, prevention and education are no longer sufficient tools. A teen who uses drugs and who cannot stop using on their own must get help at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab center.

If you have a son or daughter hooked on drugs or alcohol or if someone in your life is addicted or is showing signs of drinking or drug use, please do everything you can to help that person access a qualified residential addiction treatment program. Please don’t wait until it is too late and your son, daughter, or loved one falls even further into drinking or drug use and becomes just another statistic.

Sources Cited:

  • JGIM. “Summer as a Risk Factor for Drug Initiation.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2020.
  • NIDA. “First time drug use more common in summertime.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.
  • NIDA. “Why is adolescence a critical time for preventing drug addiction?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.


Editorial Staff