Definition: Estimated percentage of public school students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs who have ever used marijuana, by sexual orientation and number of occasions (e.g., in 2015-2017, an estimated 16.1% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs in California had used marijuana on seven or more occasions in their lifetimes).
Footnote: Years presented comprise two school years (e.g., 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years are shown as 2015-2017). County- and state-level data are weighted estimates; school district-level data are unweighted. Students in non-traditional programs are those enrolled in community day schools or continuation education. The notation S refers to (a) data for school districts that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 10 respondents in that group, and (b) data for counties that have been suppressed because the sample was too small to be representative. N/A means that data are not available.
Learn More About Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
Measures of Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, indicators of youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use come from:
Data based on student reports come from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) and are available by grade level (7, 9, 11, and/or non-traditional), gender, level of school connectedness,* parent education level, and sexual orientation.
State-level CHKS estimates, although derived from the Biennial State CHKS, may differ from data published in Biennial State CHKS reports due to differences in grade-level classification of students in continuation high schools.
*Levels of school connectedness are based on a scale created from responses to five questions about feeling safe, close to people, and a part of school, being happy at school, and about teachers treating students fairly.
Youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use is a significant public health concern linked to a wide range of academic, social, and health problems (1). Alcohol is the most widely used substance among the nation's young people and initiation peaks in the years between Grades 7 and 11 (2). Underage drinking is associated with risky health behaviors (e.g., unsafe sexual practices), injuries, motor vehicle accidents, impaired cognitive functioning, poor academic performance, physical violence, and suicide attempts; binge drinking places youth and those around them at even higher risk for negative outcomes (2). Drinking during adolescence increases the likelihood of alcohol dependence in adulthood, and excessive alcohol consumption can have long-term health consequences, including liver disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (2).
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable and premature death in the U.S., resulting in more than 480,000 deaths annually (3). Smoking causes cumulative, irreversible harm, and most long-term smokers start when they are teens or young adults (3, 4). Tobacco use or smoking in any form—including e-cigarettes—is unsafe (4). Marijuana use, too, is linked to adverse effects such as respiratory problems, anxiety attacks, cognitive difficulties, and coordination loss, as well as aggressive behavior and poor academic performance among youth (5).
Opioid misuse is a national crisis; among adolescents ages 15-19, the rate of opioid-related overdose death tripled between 1999 and 2015, from 0.8 to 2.4 per 100,000 (5). Data from a 2017 survey of teens, however, show historically low rates of opioid use, along with declines in perceived availability (6).
For more information on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
According to 2015-2017 estimates, 7% of 7th graders, 20% of 9th graders, and 29% of 11th graders in California public schools used alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days. Alcohol or drug use in the past month was 44% among students in non-traditional programs—one and a half times the estimate for 11th graders. Statewide, 11% of 11th graders binge drank at least once in the previous month, and 13% had either driven when they had been drinking, or had ridden with a driver who had been drinking, at least once in their lifetimes. E-cigarette use typically was more common than cigarette smoking: 31% of 11th graders had used e-cigarettes at least once, compared with 11% who had smoked cigarettes. Lifetime marijuana use among California 11th graders was 31% in 2015-2017, down from 41% in 2011-2013, with percentages ranging from 13% to 56% across counties with data.
With the exception of e-cigarette use by 11th graders, the estimated proportion of students in each grade level who have never used alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, and marijuana is on the rise. In general, students with low levels of school connectedness, those whose parents did not finish high school, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students more frequently report substance use than their peers in other groups.
High school staff reports from 2015-2017 show that 39% considered student alcohol and drug use a moderate or severe problem. During the same period, two-thirds agreed that substance abuse prevention was an important goal at their school, and seven out of ten reported that their school provided at least some substance use prevention education.
Public policy can promote early identification of known risk factors for youth substance misuse, such as poor school performance, truancy, lack of parental supervision, aggressive behavior, drug availability, and substance use by peers (1, 2). Policies and programs also can promote protective factors, such as school engagement, positive community connections, and academic success (1). Screening and early intervention can be effective, especially when specifically tailored to the population and risk factors (3). Controlling youth smoking (including e-cigarettes) and alcohol consumption also requires particular attention to mass media and marketing (4, 5).
Policy and program options for addressing youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use include:
Prioritizing screening and early identification of risk factors correlated with substance use, especially among middle school youth; assessments should target mental health issues, as they often co-occur with substance abuse (3, 6)
Developing comprehensive policies that promote school and community connectedness among youth and help them develop the knowledge, skills, and motivation to avoid substance use; such policies should focus on preadolescence through young adulthood and involve support from families, schools, colleges, community organizations, government, and others (4, 5, 6)
Recognizing that substance misuse and mental health disorders are inherently health conditions, embedding research-based prevention and treatment services into mainstream health care settings, and expanding behavioral health care accessibility, coverage, and coordination across systems (3)
Promoting youth-focused, mass media counter-marketing strategies to combat tobacco and alcohol advertising; also reducing youth exposure to tobacco and alcohol marketing by monitoring compliance with marketing standards (4, 5)
Continuing to enforce, strengthen, and extend evidence-based legislation, such as increased prices on alcohol and tobacco products, and keg registration requirements (4, 5, 7)