Drinking Alcohol, Smoking Tobacco, and Drug Use among U.S. and European Teens Compared

Teenagers in the United States are much less likely to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes than those in Europe according to a study of 100,000 15 and 16-year-old students in 36 countries there. Because the European study closely matches the methods and questions used in the annual nation-wide Monitoring the Future survey in the U.S., the results can be used to compare the behaviors.

An average of 57% of teens in the 36 European countries drank alcohol in the previous 30 days whereas only 27% of U.S. students reported consuming alcohol in the same period of time. Only in one country (Iceland) was the rate lower than in the U.S.

Although 28% of European teens reported smoking cigarettes in the previous 30 days, only 12% of U.S. teens smoked. In every country except Iceland, a higher proportion of Europeans teens smoked cigarettes.

However, U.S. teenagers reported dramatically higher use of illegal drugs. In the U.S., students reported one of the highest rates of marijuana use at 18%, with only France (24%) and Monaco (21%) ranking higher.

American teens reported the highest level of marijuana availability compared to all of the 36 European countries and the lowest number of students who considered smoking marijuana a "great risk."

The surveys also found the following:

Use U.S. Students European Students
LSD use 6% 2%
Ecstasy use 7% 3%
Amphetamine use 9% 3%
All other illicit drug use 16% 6%

These findings suggest that illegal drug use among teens is a much more serious problem in the United States than is the consumption of alcohol. However, we need to continue to improve and expand our abuse prevention efforts for alcohol.

Note: This website is informational only. It does not make suggestions or recommendations about drinking, smoking drugs or any other subject and none should be inferred.


  • Wadley, Jared. American teens are less likely than European teens to use cigarettes and alcohol, but more likely to use illicit drugs. University of Michigan news release, June 1, 2012. Available at ns.umich.edu/new/releases/20420-american-teens-are-less-likely-than-european-teens-to-use-cigarettes-and-alcohol-but-more-likely-to-use-illicit-drugs/.

This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about any subject.
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