Teen Girls Now Abusing Painkillers More Than Boys, These Are Red Flags To Watch Out For

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distributes a set of surveys every two years to high school students in order to track behaviors that may lead to poor health. The most recent survey, reported USAFacts, found teenagers are trying alcohol, certain drugs and other substances less than they did 10 years ago. During that same time, fewer teens have been admitted to recovery treatment centers for substance abuse.

While the report does not specifically focus on analyzing substance use rates in states with legal cannabis, previous studies have confirmed that marijuana legalization laws are not associated with increased use among high school students.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YBRS) also confirmed that teen substance use has dropped over the last several decades, a period during which many states have embraced legal cannabis. 

Substance Use Report Summary

  • Teen substance use dropped across all drugs between 2011 and 2021.
  • Teen cannabis use peaked in 1999. 
  • The percentage of male students who had ever tried marijuana outnumbered female students in 2011 — 42.5% and 37.2%. In 2021, the reverse occurred. For girls, 30.91% had used marijuana at least once, compared to 24.8% of male students.


  • Since 2013, more teen girls have reported drinking alcohol than boys. There has also been an increase in high school girls trying illicit drugs, while teenage boys experimenting with drugs continues to drop. 

  • In 2021, more teen girls had ever tried illicit drugs than boys — 14.5% compared to 12.2%.
  • In 2021, vaping was the most-tried substance among both teenage girls and boys. 41% of girls and 32% of boys tried it once in their lifetime.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native students used substances more than peers from other backgrounds: 20% of these teenagers had tried illicit drugs, compared to 14% of white and Hispanic teens, 9% of Black teens, and 7% of Asian teens.
  • Teen girls are misusing prescription painkillers more than boys.
  • In terms of recovery treatment centers for substance abuse, in 2011, 177,916 teens aged 12-18 were admitted to a treatment facility. By 2020, this number dropped to 71,246.

High-Risk Factors For Substance Use

The report admonishes parents and teachers to be familiar with risk factors for substance use among teenagers. CDC data indicates risk factors include poor parental supervision, family history of substance abuse and family rejection of sexual orientation, interaction with peers who use substances, low academic scores, trauma, and mental health issues.

Red alerts include mood changes, low school attendance and disregard for rules, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Photo: Courtesy of Emmanuel Olguín on Unsplash

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