CONTEXT: The use and misuse of substances among children and adolescents is, and continues to be, a significant area of interest and concern. While some explain substance use in adolescence as a 'normative behaviour', others explain this behaviour as a predictor of later substance misuse problems. The aim of the current study is to describe the prevalence of the use of substances amongst adolescents from varying socio-economic backgrounds, to compare use in adolescence to the individuals substance use as an adult, and to explore if prevalence, high frequency, and high quantity of substance use correlate with low self-esteem levels. METHODS: A quantitative survey design was used. Stratified random sampling was used in each of the three institutions. A cross-sectional and correlational design was conducted. Data was collected from 51 female and 51 male students aged 18 to 47 from three educational institutions; private college, FAS training, and PLC college. RESULTS: There was a significant difference of age at first smoking a cigarette for private college participants and FAS participants; t(23.7) = 3.22. p = .004 (2 tailed), however, there was no significant difference between private college participants and PLC participants. There was a correlation between the young age of cigarette smoking onset and a high amount of cigarettes smoked in previous 35 days of measurement; r = -.33, n = 44, p<.0005. The relationship was not significant between participants cannabis use in adolescence and their use in adulthood. 20 out of the 39 participants who experimented with ecstasy in adolescence had used ecstasy and / or head shop substances in the previous thirty-five days of measurement. 7 participants scored low self-esteem on the Rosenberg self-esteem scale, all of which recently used illicit substances. CONCLUSION: Initiating substance use does not occur solely on one's socio-economic background; an extremely complex reason lies with each individual. It is ultimately down to choice. However, initiating substance use in adolescence increases the likelihood that one will continue to use in adulthood. Substance use is not necessarily negative in terms of one's self-esteem. Substance use can be pleasurable, a term which is quite often forgotten when concentrating on statistics.