So when do kids start experimenting with drugs and alcohol? The answer to this question varies widely from one youth to the next, but on the whole, many kids start using substances far sooner than their parents imagine. As mentioned in the introduction, both the age of first use and the onset of addiction have been steadily declining in recent years. (Thompson & Hickey, 2008, p. 414) A lot of drug-related experimentation now starts in the preteen years. (Hanson et al., 2004, p. 97)
A 2007 review of multiple surveys published in the journal Prevention Science found that the percentage of children who use alcohol doubles between grades 4 and 6, with the largest jump coming between the 5th and 6th grades. (Jayson, 2-4-2009) So if you’re waiting until junior high school to address these issue’s you may be waiting too late.
One survey in a Riverside, California school district found that 27% of fifth-graders reported consuming alcohol. (USA Today, June 2, 2010, p. 9A) According to CASSA, the mean age of First drink for girls is less than 13-year-old, and regular drinking for girls begins on average at age 15. (Jersild, 2001)
Comedian John Mulaney started drinking at age 13, and also used cocaine and prescription drugs while growing up. “I wasn’t a good athlete,” he says, “so maybe it was some young male thing of ‘This is the physical feat I can do. `Three Vicodin and a tequila and I’m still standing? Who’s the athlete now?'” (People, 1-11-2021, p. 17)
Singer-songwriter Julien Baker, 23, started smoking cigarettes at age 12, emulating the older kids at her bus stop. Soon she was experimenting with alcohol, weed, and prescription medication. “They got older and I would drink with them and smoke weed with them.” She says it’s easy to overlook burgeoning addiction in a kid, telling GQ in 2019: “That cultural categorization of substance abuse as the taboo but expected misbehavior of children contributed to me having a warped sort of denial.” (GQ, Feb. 2019, p. 60; Petrusich, 2021) In other words, the idea of ‘kids being kids,’ while often true, can also obscure the onset of addiction in children and teens.
Singer-songwriter Soko also got involved in drugs and alcohol at a fairly young age: “I started going out to bars with my stepbrother when I was 13…When I was 16, I started going out three, four times a week and then every night.” (GQ, Feb. 2019, p. 60)