What You Need to Know About Alcohol and Tobacco Use in Middle Schools

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Why is adolescence a critical time to intervene in smoking and alcohol use? Early introduction of these substances can lead to a variety of adverse consequences, including addiction later in life, not to mention the impact on a developing brain and body. Identifying adolescents at greatest risk can also help stop problems before they develop.

Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among adolescents.
The average age teen boy first tries alcohol at age 11, for teen girls, it’s 13.[1] In 2015, the Monitoring the Future Survey reported that 10% of 8th graders drank during the past 30 days, and 5% of 8th graders binge drank during the past two weeks.[2] Because their organs and brain are still growing and mental capabilities are developing, the risk of adverse health effects on young drinkers are increased.

A young person’s body cannot cope with alcohol the same way an adult’s can. Middle school students most frequently drank at home parties with three to four other kids and reported alcohol-related troubles including conflicts with friends or parents, memory loss, nausea, and doing things they would not usually do.[3]

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.
Although tobacco use by adolescents and young adults has substantially declined in the last 40 years, in 2015, almost one in 17 high school seniors was a daily smoker, and almost one in 10 had smoked within the last 30 days.[4] If you smoke, your kids are more likely to smoke. Middle school students are three times more likely to try smoking if there’s a smoker at home.[5]

According to the CDC, the majority of daily smokers (82%) began smoking before 18 years of age, and more than 3,000 young people still start smoking each day.[6] If smoking continues at the current rate among US youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. This represents about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger who are alive today.[7]

According to our national survey data, the percentages of 6th through 8th graders who use tobacco (5.5%), alcohol (11.6%) – and even marijuana (4.8%) are concerning.[8]  What this tells us is that schools need to begin conversations about alcohol use and smoking with students by the fourth or fifth grade and continue those conversations for the rest of their school career.

Some scary stuff. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
It’s important to remember that most adolescents do not use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. And, as we discussed in a previous post regarding talking to kids about drug use, parents can have a strong influence on their kids when it comes to starting – even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Family involvement is essential to the success of alcohol use and smoking prevention. Educators play a vital role too; Schools have the opportunity to work with healthcare professionals, community organizations and specialists to identify students who show behavioral risks for smoking, alcohol and drug-related problems.

Pride Surveys developed its Risk and Protective Factor (RPF) student perception survey, a hybrid version of the Communities That Care (CTC) Youth Survey and the Pride Questionnaire for Grades 6 to 12 to measure the factors that show the strongest correlation to drug use. It contains the updated Core Measures required by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for their Drug-Free Communities Grant that went into effect February 2013 and asks about incidences of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use plus perceptions of availability and disapproval of use from parents and friends.

For over thirty years, Pride Surveys has been helping schools collect data on teen substance abuse perceptions and drug use trends in their communities through scalable survey products. We offer multiple drug-free community survey options as well as student risk perception surveys designed to help assess teen substance abuse and risk, including our student surveys for grades 4-6grades 6-12, and our supplemental surveys like the Drug-Free Community Survey Supplement. Please contact us online or call (800) 279-6361 for more information.

Note: If you need help quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.



[1] “Teenage Drinking.”

[2] “Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975 – 2015.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2015.pdf

[3] Middle School Drinking: Who, Where and When.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4543295/

[4] “Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975 – 2015.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2015.pdf

[5] “Talking to your middle school-aged child about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs: a 10-step guide for parents.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at http://www.needhamma.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3387

[6] “Guidelines for School Health Programs to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00026213.htm

[7] “2014 Surgeon General’s Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking-50Years of Progress.” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/index.htm

[8] “Pride Surveys Questionnaire for Grades 6 thru 12 Standard Report” Retrieved 12 December, 2017 at https://www.pridesurveys.com/customercenter/us15ns.pdf

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