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New report finds that 12th grade aged high school dropouts are more at risk for substance use

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A new report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that substance use was more likely among 12th grade aged dropouts than among 16 to 18 year olds who were still in school.

Twelfth grade aged dropouts were more likely to have engaged in past month use of cigarettes (55.9 vs. 20.2 percent), alcohol (41.1 vs. 33.7 percent), binge alcohol (31.8 vs. 22.1 percent), illicit drugs (31.4 vs. 18.1 percent), marijuana (27.5 vs. 15.6 percent), and nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs (9.5 vs. 4.6 percent).

“The impact of dropping out of high school is profound, regrettably leading to many negative economic and health outcomes both for the individual and the community” said Frances M. Harding, Director for SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “Substance abuse prevention efforts can reduce the risk of individuals dropping out of school which greatly increases their likelihood of future positive employment, financial and health outcomes.”

SAMHSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have developed several educational resources on substance use for youths, parents, and other adults, including the following:

  • Online guides and tip sheets for youths that address the risks of initiating use across a wide variety of substances, including prescription drugs.
  • Resources for teachers and parents to address drug use among youths.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Report: Substance Use among 12th Grade Aged Youths, by Dropout Status, is based on combined 2002-2014 data from the SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). NSDUH is a scientifically conducted annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older. 

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Reporters with questions should send inquiries to media@samhsa.hhs.gov.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to lead public health and service delivery efforts that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and provide treatments and supports to foster recovery while ensuring equitable access and better outcomes.

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