Widespread Underage Drinking

While 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 (SAMHSA), there were an estimated 10 million underage drinkers in 2010.

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

Health And Social Impacts Of Underage Drinking

Research 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 more quickly 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. Teens can face extremely 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

The evidence indicates 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.

Sexual Assaults And STDs

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.

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 behind drinking 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 frustration or anger. Girls are also more likely to drink because of family problems than because of peer pressure.

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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. These can include:


Teens with parents or siblings that have a drinking problem are four times more likely to develop a problem of their own.

External Pressure

Teens whose parents, siblings, or friends are heavy drinkers are more likely to start drinking earlier and believe the behavior is acceptable.


Young people who believe alcohol makes them more sociable are more likely to drink heavily in order to fit in.

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Get Help For Teen Alcohol Problems

If you are a teenager or know one who is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction problems, help is available. There are many programs that specialize in treating addicted teens. Contact a treatment provider to discuss treatment options.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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