Underage Drinking Statistics
Underage drinking, defined as the consumption of alcoholic beverages by individuals below the legal drinking age, is a pressing concern.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:
- 29% had consumed alcohol
- 14% had participated in binge drinking
- 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol
- 5% drove after drinking alcohol themselves
These statistics highlight how underage drinking is a prevalent issue that has multi-faceted risks associated with it.
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What Is The Legal Drinking Age In The US?
The legal drinking age varies across different countries but is 21 years of age in the US.
In 1988, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed with hopes of decreasing the rate of driving while under the influence (DUI) related accidents and deaths among young people. The act prohibits anyone younger than 21 from buying or having alcoholic beverages in their possession and is still in effect today.
Patterns Of Underage Drinking
Like other forms of alcohol consumption, patterns of use can develop with underage drinking.
Although adults still drink more often than today’s youth, adolescents consume more alcohol than most adults during a single drinking session.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that more than 90% of all alcoholic drinks consumed by underaged drinkers are consumed through binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as men consuming five or more drinks and women consuming four or more within two hours.
In 2021, 3.2 million youth ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking at least once in the past month, and approximately 613,000 youth ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking on five or more days over the past month.
Binge drinking is associated with many adverse health effects that can be particularly damaging to the development of an adolescent, including:
- Liver damage
- Memory and learning problems
- Interruptions in healthy brain development
- Heart damage
- Alcohol poisoning
- Increased cancer risk
Another pattern developed by underage drinkers is the way in which they obtain alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that up to 84% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 who admitted to recently consuming alcohol obtained the alcohol for free.
This shows that most adolescents are not acquiring alcohol from grocery or liquor stores, but rather are obtaining it from someone they know, typically a friend or close family member. Reasons given for this behavior include celebrations, cultural customs, or simple experimentation. However, it is important to remember that it is illegal and never ok to provide alcohol to a minor. Penalties range from fines to jail time.
Negative Impacts Of Underage Drinking
Young people who engage in underage drinking can experience adverse consequences, including:
- Social challenges
- Impaired judgment and coordination
- Reduced decision-making abilities
- Unsatisfactory academic performance
- Increased risk of accidents, injuries, and other risky behaviors
Furthermore, underage drinking is typically connected to risky problematic behaviors, such as driving under the influence, unprotected sex, and involvement in violent or criminal behavior.
How Parents Can Help
It is vital that parents, guardians, schools, and communities collectively address the problem of underage drinking by working together to promote education, encourage awareness, and advocate for responsible behavior.
Youth are less likely to be at risk for underage drinking and its negative impacts when they have proper access to supportive services, strictly enforced underage drinking laws, and parents or guardians who play an active role in their children’s lives.
Below are some things that parents can do to help the prevention of underage drinking.
- Be aware of factors that increase the risk of underage drinking, including a family history of mental health or substance use issues.
- Know who your kids hang out with. If they hang out with other kids that drink alcohol, they are more likely to drink alcohol themselves.
- Talk to your kids when they reach significant milestones, such as graduating high school or getting a driver’s license. Kids may feel that these milestones give them a reason to celebrate by drinking alcohol.
- Be a positive role model by not driving after drinking and not buying alcohol for your kids.
- Set clear rules and boundaries regarding alcohol use.
- Be open to talk about alcohol use.
Overall, it is vital to provide help and support if you suspect that your child has been engaging in underage drinking.
Common Questions About Rehab
Get Help Now
Underage drinking is a serious problem that can create significant risks to the health and well-being of young people, but help is available. If you suspect that your child or teen is engaging in underage drinking, there are teen-focused treatment options that provide help and support to adolescents affected by alcohol use.
Talk to a treatment provider today to explore available treatment options.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience