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Medically Reviewed

What Are the Newest Ways Teens Abuse Substances?

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Though teenagers have abused drugs and alcohol for a long time, how they do it has evolved over the years. While alcohol and cigarettes may have been popular in the 1950s, and marijuana or LSD in the 1960s, these days, adolescents are discovering new ways to abuse common substances like alcohol, as well as non-traditional substances like cough syrup or the propellant in aerosol cans.


And some of the new ways teens are abusing alcohol are somewhat bizarre:2-4

  • Smoking alcohol: This practice involves pouring alcohol over dry ice, which is then inhaled directly or through a special DIY vaporizing kit. Although it may look like a game to teens, smoking alcohol can be deadly. When it is inhaled, alcohol goes straight into the bloodstream, which theoretically could allow the user to become intoxicated more quickly than drinking. Frequently, when people drink too much alcohol, vomiting occurs. This natural reaction helps to expel any alcohol remaining in the stomach, thereby minimizing further absorption and lowering the likelihood of overdose. However, when alcohol is smoked, it bypasses the digestive tract altogether. Blood alcohol levels may rise rapidly, and teens may be at greater risk of overdose and alcohol poisoning.
  • Eyeballing vodka: Eyeball shots are an extreme way to get drunk by pouring vodka or other kinds of alcohol straight into the eye sockets. The corrosive nature of vodka can cause abrasions on the cornea and scar them and contribute to serious eye infections or vision loss.
  • Butt chugging: This dangerous practice involves using funnels or enemas to deliver alcohol directly to the rectum. Butt chugging can result in more rapid-onset, dangerous levels of intoxication than drinking since it bypasses first-pass metabolism by the liver.

Prescription Medications

>Prescription medication abuse is a fast-growing problem for teens: for kids 14 and older, they are the third-most abused substance after alcohol and marijuana.5 These drugs are often obtained from relatives and friends or even by theft.

Some of the prescription medications teens commonly abuse include:6

  • Opioids: Prescribed for pain relief, some of the most common opioids include codeine, Vicodin, and OxyContin. Several recent studies found that half of heroin users reported using prescription opioids before they started using heroin.
  • Stimulants: Medications for ADHD like Ritalin and Adderall are prescribed in capsule or tablet form and are intended for oral use. Those who abuse these drugs may crush the pills and inject or snort the powder in an attempt to speed the onset of or otherwise amplify the effects of the drug. Stimulants are sometimes abused by students who want to improve their performance at school. Although they may improve temporary alertness, there is little evidence that they improve academic functioning for people that don’t have a medical condition.
  • Benzodiazepines: Valium and Xanax are sedative-anxiolytic medications that are prescribed for the short-term management of anxiety. They can cause a loss of coordination and sleepiness and, when taken in excess or over extended periods of time, can lead to severe physiological dependence and withdrawal when the teen tries to quit using them. 

Over-the-Counter Substances

Some over-the-counter medications have mind-altering properties when taken in ways other than their approved use. You might think that over-the-counter or prescription medications are safer than illegal drugs; however, some of the drugs in your medicine cabinet can be as dangerous as illicit drugs and put users at risk of adverse health effects.6 Common over-the-counter medications teenagers abuse include:7,8

Household Items

You can lock the medicine and liquor cabinets to prevent teenage drug abuse, but teens may also use ordinary household products to get high. Common items like computer cleaning aerosols, hand sanitizer, and even pantry items like nutmeg are leading to increased emergency room admissions in some areas of the country. These substances can be hazardous when consumed and may cause:9

Even if you lock up your whole house, your teen might still find ways to get high if they want. The best thing that you can do is be aware of substance abuse trends and keep the lines of communication open with your teen. It’s vital to get help for your teen if you believe that they are using household items, prescription drugs, or alternative substances to get high—their health and life may truly depend on it.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets—Underage Drinking.
  2. Time. (2013). Smoking Alcohol: The Dangerous Way People Are Getting Drunk.
  3. Bosmia, A.N., Griessenauer, C.J., & Tubbs, R.S. (2014). Vodka Eyeballing: A Potential Cause of Ocular Injuries. Journal of Injury & Violence Research, 6(2), 93–94.
  4. El Mazloum, R., Snenghi, R., Barbieri, S., Feltracco, P., Omizzolo, L., Vettore, G., et al. (2015). ‘Butt-Chugging’: A New Way of Alcohol Assumption in Young People. European Journal of Public Health, 25(3).
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). Prescription Drugs.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). Cough and Cold Medicine (DXM and Codeine Syrup).
  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). Five Things Inhalants Can Do to Your Body.
  10. University of Rochester Medical Center. (2017). A Parent’s Guide to Inhalant Abuse.
  11. Gormley, N.J., Bronstein, A.C., Rasimas, J.J., Pao, M., Wratney, A.T., Sun, J., et al. (2013). The Rising Incidence of Intentional Ingestion of Ethanol-Containing Hand Sanitizers. Critical Care Medicine, 40(1), 290–294.
  12. Las Vegas Review-Journal. (2015). Unconventional Intoxicants Include Nutmeg, Choking.
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Scot Thomas
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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