Fact Sheets - Underage Drinking
Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.1
- Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.2,3
- Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States.4 More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks.4
- On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.5
- In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.6
Drinking Levels among Youth
The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey7 found that among high school students, during the past 30 days
- 33% drank some amount of alcohol.
- 18% binge drank.
- 8% drove after drinking alcohol.
- 20% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
Other national surveys
- In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 20% of youth aged 12 to 20 years drink alcohol and 13% reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.8
- In 2015, the Monitoring the Future Survey reported that 10% of 8th graders and 35% of 12th graders drank during the past 30 days, and 5% of 8th graders and 17% of 12th graders binge drank during the past 2 weeks.9
Consequences of Underage Drinking
Youth who drink alcohol 1,5,10 are more likely to experience
- School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
- Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
- Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
- Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
- Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
- Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
- Physical and sexual assault.
- Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
- Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
- Memory problems.
- Abuse of other drugs.
- Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
- Death from alcohol poisoning.
In general, the risk of youth experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink.10
Youth who start drinking before age 15 years are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years.8
Prevention of Underage Drinking
Reducing underage drinking will require community-based efforts to monitor the activities of youth and decrease youth access to alcohol. Recent publications by the Surgeon General1 and the Institute of Medicine5 outlined many prevention strategies for the prevention of underage drinking, such as enforcement of minimum legal drinking age laws, national media campaigns targeting youth and adults, increasing alcohol excise taxes, reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising, and development of comprehensive community-based programs.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2007.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: CDC.
- Sacks JJ, Gonzales KR, Bouchery EE, Tomedi LE, Brewer RD. 2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption. Am J Prev Med 2015; 49(5):e73–e79.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy [PDF-599KB]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2005.
- Bonnie RJ and O’Connell ME, editors. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. The DAWN Report: Highlights of the 2010 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits [PDF-410KB]. Rockville, MD; 2012.
- Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2016;65(No. SS-6):1–174.
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD; 2016.
- Johnston, LD, O’Malley PM, Miech RA, Bachman, J G, & Schulenberg J E. Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: 2015 Overview- Key findings on adolescent drug use [PDF-3.3 MB]. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
- Miller JW, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Jones SE. Binge drinking and associated health risk behaviors among high school students. Pediatrics 2007;119:76–85.
- Page last reviewed: May 10, 2018
- Page last updated: May 10, 2018
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