Texans Teens Using Less Alcohol and Tobacco, but Marijuana Use Remains Steady

Drug, alcohol, and cigarette use among Texas teens has been dropping in recent years. Use of some substances has gone up, while others have gone down or stayed the same. Overall, though, the outlook is good and fewer teens are using these substances. Alcohol and drug abuse among teens poses many serious problems. Young people are more susceptible to the harmful physical effects of using drugs and alcohol. They are also more likely to engage in other risky behaviors when they are using. That overall usage has gone down is great news for the state of Texas.

Texas School Survey of Substance Use

The data on Texas teen drug use comes from the Department of State Health Services. Every two years, the department conducts the Texas School Survey of Substance Use to collect statistics and facts about what and how much young people are using. It also collects information about attitudes toward substance abuse, involvement in extracurricular activities, and how students get information about drugs and alcohol. The most recent survey, from 2012, was conducted with Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. They randomly chose students from school districts around the state and surveyed close to 48,000 in grades four through six. For grades seven to twelve, nearly 90,000 students completed the survey. The findings of the 2012 survey showed that substance use is down overall among Texas teens. Fewer teens are using prescription drugs like Valium, cough syrup with codeine, or Xanax, but more are using other narcotic prescriptions inappropriately. The use of marijuana remains steady.

Legal and Non-Medical Substances

Among secondary students in Texas, those in grades seven through twelve, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance. Its use is in decline, though. In 2012, 58 percent of the students reported using alcohol ever. That number was 62 percent in the 2010 survey. In 1990 it was a whopping 80 percent. Incidents of binge drinking had also decreased by two percent over the last two years. Use of tobacco has been in a steady decline over several years and continued in 2012. In 1990, 56 percent of students surveyed were using tobacco. That number went down to 31 percent in 2010 and 28 percent in the most recent survey. Inhalant use was also down with just under 16 percent of students reporting having ever used one to get high. Common inhalants used by Texas teens include correction fluids, helium, butane, propane, and Freon.

Illicit Substances

The most common illegal drug used by Texas teens continues to be marijuana. Among secondary students, 26 percent report having used it, which is the same number that was reported in 2010. Significant decreases were seen in the use of cocaine, crack, ecstasy, and hallucinogens. Use of methamphetamine was also down, but not by much. In 2010, 3 percent of students reported using it, and in 2012 that number decreased to 2.5 percent. Illicit steroid use has remained steady among teenagers.


Abuse of over-the-counter drugs, such as cough syrups, was down in 2012 from the previous survey. Prescription cough syrup containing the narcotic drug codeine is also abused by teens. Its use decreased significantly, though, from 2010 to 2012. Prescription anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Valium were first included in the survey only in 2008. Since then, abuse of these medications by teens has steadily decreased. That trend continued in 2012. Also first introduced to the survey in 2008 were narcotic prescription pain killers. These include oxycodone medications, like Percocet, Percodan, and OxyContin, as well as hydrocodone painkillers, such as Lorcet, Vicodin, and Lortab. This class of substance abuse is the only one that increased among Texas secondary students from 2010 to 2012. Students reported using oxycodone and hydrocodone at rates of 3.6 and 7.5 percent in 2012.

Elementary Students

The fourth to sixth graders surveyed in the 2012 study showed declines in substance use in all areas. Alcohol use among these young children decreased significantly, as did tobacco use. The abuse of household inhalants was also down from 2010 to 2012. Marijuana use, mostly among sixth graders, decreased over the two years, but not by a significant amount. The survey of Texas teens conducted every two years is an important benchmark for understanding how young people are using and abusing substances.  While it is encouraging to see most of the numbers drop year after year, there are still a significant number of teens using these harmful substances. Professionals, educators, and parents can use the data to step up their prevention tactics as well as efforts to help these teens seek effective treatment.

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