Teen Drug Use Facts: Cocaine and Crack Statistics

Cocaine drug use among teens, while declining, is a major concern for parents. This is because young men and young women who use cocaine can become addicted and develop major health problems, including mental health issues like depression, as a consequence.

Cocaine Abuse Has Been Decreasing

Cocaine Crack Teens Annual Use Statistics
monitoringthefuture.org

Statistics of teen cocaine use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) stated in 2019 that nearly 1 million Americans age 12 and over met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for cocaine use disorder. This means they are showing signs of addiction to cocaine and/or crack.

This number is down from the estimated 1.5 million cases in the organization's 2002 report. The dramatic decrease in cocaine use disorder began in 2009. Adults between 18 and 25 years old were the group with both the heaviest usage in 2002 and the biggest decrease by 2019.

Learning from the Past

This time period also saw a significant drop in past-year cocaine use initiation. In 2002, around 1 million people age 12 and over reported using cocaine for the first time, compared to 671,000 people in 2019.

Throughout this entire time period, youths ages 18 to 25 have had by far the highest rates of initiation. In 2019, roughly 70% of cocaine initiates (476,000) were in this age range. Around 59,000 initiates were adolescents (ages 12 to 17).

The consistency of these patterns offer some lessons for parents, educators, and other adults. Youths are more likely to start cocaine use in their college years than in high school. However, individuals who begin using the drug at younger ages are not far from becoming addicted.

Other research from SAMHSA shows that people who start using cocaine in adolescence are more likely to develop addiction than if they start experimenting in adulthood. Among adolescents in substance treatment programs for cocaine use, most started experimenting with cocaine by age 15.

The Scope of Teen Cocaine Use Today

Woman inhaling cocaine with rolled 100 dollar bill.
Piotr Powietrzynski/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Teen cocaine use has been declining since 2006.

The 2020 Monitoring the Future Study demonstrates the decline of teen cocaine use:

  • 8th Graders: 0.5% in 2020, down from 2.2% in 2005
  • 10 Graders: 1.1% in 2020, down from 3.5% in 2005
  • 12th Graders: 2.9% in 2020, down from 5.1% in 2005

Crack cocaine follows similar trends. In 2020, the statistics for crack use looked like this:

  • 8th Graders: 0.2% in 2020, down from 1.4% in 2005
  • 10 Graders: 0.5% in 2020, down from 1.7% in 2005
  • 12th Graders: 1.2% in 2020, down from 1.9% in 2005

The 2020 study notes that cocaine and crack cocaine use continues to decline among teenagers, though usage among 12th graders had a statistically nonsignificant boost in 2020.

The Availability of Cocaine to Teens

Another interesting statistic in the Monitoring the Future Study is how easy it is for teens to get cocaine.

Among those surveyed, 24% of 12th graders in 2019 said that it would "fairly easy" or "very easy" for them to buy cocaine if they wanted to. Compare this to 59% in 1989, when reported availability was at its peak.

The study points out that statistically, availability of cocaine does not necessarily correlate with the use of it among teens.

Do Teens See the Risks of Cocaine Use?

Young man snorting cocaine through rolled up banknote
MedicImage/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The 2020 Monitoring the Future Study study also shows that teenagers are well aware of the risks of cocaine, and the majority of them disapprove of its use.

In the 2020 study, over 85% of teens in 8th and 12th grade said that they do not approve of cocaine use. This statistic has remained steady (and increased slightly) since 1999.

The Perceived Risk

In the 1970s and early 80s, only 30% to 40% of 12th graders saw a "great risk" in trying cocaine one or two times. This number spiked dramatically in the late 1980s, peaking at roughly 60%. One reason for this was the sudden and well-publicized death of NBA star Len Bias. Initial reports said his first-time use of cocaine caused his death. While that was later found to be false, it scared teens, and the message stuck.

In the 1990s, the perceived risk of cocaine declined, and it has stayed fairly level at around 50%. In 2019, around 47.7% of 12th graders saw "great risk" in trying cocaine.

This decline may be due to a lack of similar media coverage on the dangers of cocaine. From Chris Farley to Whitney Houston, there are a number of celebrity deaths that have been attributed to cocaine (among other drugs and complications). Yet though their parents may be fans, none of the names really stand out among today's teen favorites. Today's teens may not know of Bias and have not had a similar cocaine-related death experience among celebrities popular in their demographic.

Despite this decline, the study authors say there is "little evidence of generational forgetting of cocaine's risks." In addition, adding questions on crack cocaine and cocaine powder in 1987 had little impact on perceived risk of cocaine overall. Teens still see cocaine as one of the more dangerous drugs with which to experiment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Published September 2020.

  2. SAMHSA. Age of Substance Use Initiation Among Treatment Admissions Aged 18 to 30. Published July 17, 2014.

  3. Bracken BK, Rodolico J, Hill KP. Sex, age, and progression of drug use in adolescents admitted for substance use disorder treatment in the northeastern United States: comparison with a national survey. Subst Abus. 2013;34(3):263-272. doi:10.1080/08897077.2013.770424

  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975-2020. Published January 2021.