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Underage Drinking

As underage drinking continues, so do the societal and health problems it causes.

Widespread Underage Drinking

Teenager drinking a beerWhile the number of teens who drink has been going down over the past few years, there are still millions of underage drinkers nationwide.

According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were an estimated 10 million underage drinkers in 2010.

Among those 10 million underage drinkers, about were 6.5 million binge drinkers and 2 million were heavy drinkers. Prevention methods may contribute to the lower rates of abuse, but the current problem is still very real.

Underage Drinkers in the U.S. by Drinking Habits

  • Binge Drinkers
  • Heavy Drinkers
  • Casual Drinkers

Health and Societal Impact of Underage Drinking

Researchers suggest that teens are more likely than adults to abuse alcohol because of the way the human brain develops. During adolescence, the teenage brain’s pleasure centers mature quicker than the part of the brain responsible for sound decision-making.

Teens are particularly vulnerable to binge drinking because their impulse control has not yet fully matured.

Many teens do not have the mental capacity to fully understand the consequences of drinking or even be aware of them. Teens can face immediate negative consequences, such as brain damage and delayed puberty. Indirect health issues, such as car crashes and sexual assaults, are also common problems from drinking.

Underage drinking affects not only the drinker but society in general. This is because intoxicated teens can make impulsive decisions regarding driving under the influence and causing fights, acts that get people hurt or even killed.

Some concerns include:

  • Brain damage. Researchers believe that heavy drinking in adolescence can impair brain function later in life. Memory, coordination and motor skills may be affected.
  • Car crashes. Alcohol is a big factor in fatal accidents, affecting both passengers and drivers. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. About a quarter of those crashes involve a driver who is drinking underage.
  • Assaults and sexual activity. Teenagers who drink heavily are more likely to be involved in sexual assaults and physical fights. Additionally, teens who drink are less likely to use protection during sexual activity. This can lead to unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

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Gender Differences in Teen Drinking

Although all teenagers face similar struggles with drinking, girls and boys have different triggers and potential consequences. In general, girls are less likely to binge drink or be charged with alcohol-related offenses than boys are.

The reasons teens drink heavily are different for boys and girls as well. Girls are more likely to say that they drink to escape problems or to cope with frustrations or anger. Girls are also more likely to drink because of family problems than because of peer pressure.

Risk Factors of Young Drinkers

People who start drinking at a young age are more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol later in life. No one is immune to developing a problem, but some factors may increase the likelihood of abuse, including:

  • Genetics. Teens with parents or siblings that have a drinking problem are four times more likely to develop a problem of their own.
  • Race and ethnicity. Some racial groups, such as American Indians or Native Alaskans, are at a higher risk of developing an alcohol dependence.
  • External pressure. Teens whose parents, siblings or friends are heavy drinkers are more likely to start drinking earlier and believe that behavior is acceptable.
  • Personality. Young people who believe alcohol makes them more social are more likely to drink heavily in order to fit in.

Get Help for Teen Alcohol Problems

If you are a teenager or know one who is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction problems, we can help. There are many programs that specialize in treating addicted teens.

Our treatment specialists can get you in touch with a rehab or counselor while respecting your privacy. Call us now to get the help you need.

Sources & Author Last Edited: January 21, 2016

  1. Harvard Health Publications. (2011). Alcohol Use and Abuse. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from:
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from:
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