The consequences of teen alcohol abuse can be significant and include drunk driving, sexual assault, alcohol poisoning and delayed brain development.

Teen drinking can have serious consequences, and unfortunately, teen alcohol abuse is not uncommon. Teens may drink because of boredom or peer pressure, but teen drinking is preventable. The facts surrounding teens and alcohol can provide parents with information about warning signs and how they can help their teens avoid the consequences associated with underage drinking. 

Underage Drinking Facts and Statistics

According to underage drinking statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  30% of high schoolers consumed alcohol in the past month. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has also reported that approximately one-third of teenagers have consumed one or more alcoholic drinks by the time they turn 15. 

Youth who drink before the age of 15 are at risk of significant consequences, according to experts. The research shows that young adolescents who consume alcohol are more likely to demonstrate suicidal behaviors; they are also more likely to have sex and to engage in risky sexual acts, such as having multiple partners. Those who consume alcohol by age 14 or earlier are also more likely to struggle with alcohol dependence later in life. 

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking statistics show that binge drinking among teens is a concern. According to the research, 14% of high school students are active binge drinkers. Among adolescents who consume alcohol, 90% of alcohol consumption is in the form of binge drinking. Furthermore, those who drink underage consume larger quantities of alcohol in one sitting when compared to adults. 

For teenagers, binge drinking can be defined as consuming four or more drinks during a two-hour period for girls and five or more drinks for boys. Since the majority of teen drinking occurs as binge drinking, it appears that teenagers are not simply experimenting with a few sips of alcohol; instead, they are consuming multiple alcoholic beverages and becoming intoxicated. 

Related: Teen Drinking Facts and Statistics

Teen Alcohol Access

Having easy access to alcohol can contribute to underage drinking. In a national survey, 54% of 8th graders, 71% of 10th graders and 86% of 12th graders reported that it would be fairly or very easy for them to obtain alcohol. 

Teen alcohol access can occur in several ways. According to one study, teens may access alcohol when parents provide it on vacation or special occasions. It is also common for teens to have a friend or sibling of legal drinking age purchase alcohol for them. Some teens even report that their parents will buy alcohol for them to consume.

Teens can also obtain alcohol through the use of fake IDs. In addition, some adolescents resort to stealing alcohol, either from parents or from stores. Some adolescents also go to local stores that will sell to underage customers or befriend store clerks to convince them to sell to teens. 

Dangers of Teen Drinking

Binge drinking is dangerous regardless of a person’s age, but the effects of alcohol on teens can be especially devastating. Teens who drink are at risk of a number of negative outcomes, ranging from brain damage to death. 

Some of the most common risks of underage drinking include:

  • Brain Development: The teenage years are a critical period for brain development, and the effects of alcohol on the teen brain can stall this development. During adolescence, an area of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for fear and emotions, develops first, whereas the frontal cortex, involved in rational decision-making, develops later. Teenage alcohol use can have a negative impact on brain development and lead to increased impulsive, irrational behavior. 
  • Sexual Assault: Alcohol and sexual assault commonly occur together in teenagers, with experts reporting that teens who drink are more likely to perpetrate or become victim to sexual assault when under the influence, compared to those who do not consume alcohol.  
  • Drunk Driving: Teen drunk driving is another consequence of underage drinking, with research showing that 10% of high schoolers aged 16 and older drink and drive. 
  • Death: Underage drinking deaths can be attributed to drinking and driving, as experts report that the risk of death from a car crash is 17 times higher among underage drinkers with a blood alcohol level of .08 compared to those with no alcohol in their systems. Teen alcohol poisoning can also be a cause of death, with statistics showing that there are about 113 alcohol poisoning deaths per year among Americans aged 15–24. 
  • Alcoholism: Teen alcohol abuse can also lead to alcoholism among this age group. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 623,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have an alcohol use disorder, with girls and boys being equally affected. 

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.

Signs of Teenage Alcohol Abuse

Signs of teenage alcohol abuse can include problems at school or at home. According to experts, teens who engage in underage drinking may act rebelliously or begin spending time with new groups of friends. They may also demonstrate mood swings and be irritable and angry. A teen who is abusing alcohol may become detached from the family, struggle academically or begin to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, such as sports and clubs. Teens who drink may also get in trouble at school or appear tired and sluggish. Any significant changes in behavior could be a sign of a problem. 

There are other, more obvious signs that a teen is abusing alcohol. These could include the presence of alcohol or empty alcohol containers among a teen’s belongings. A teen who is under the influence of alcohol may appear to be confused, slur their speech, have bloodshot eyes, or find it difficult to stay steady on their feet. There may also be a noticeable odor of alcohol on their breath. 

Does My Teen Need Alcohol Rehab?

Adolescents who abuse alcohol may develop an alcohol use disorder and require teen alcohol treatment. Signs that a teen is struggling with an alcohol use disorder include continuing to use alcohol despite consequences at home or school, using more alcohol than intended, being unable to cut back on alcohol use and spending a significant amount of time sick as a result of alcohol abuse. 

Teenagers who are abusing alcohol may also show alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t drinking, or they may find that they need to drink more and more to achieve the same effects. In addition, they may drink to the point of putting themselves in danger, such as becoming drunk and then driving home. 

If your teen is displaying one or more of these symptoms, he or she may have an alcohol use disorder that requires teen alcohol rehab. A substance abuse professional can perform an assessment and determine the extent of the problem and what type of treatment is necessary. 

If you are concerned about your teen’s drinking, The Recovery Village has a team of caring professionals ready to answer your questions and provide information about resources and treatment services. Contact a representative today to learn more about alcohol recovery.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fact Sheets- Underage Drinking.” August 2, 2018. Accessed July 14, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage drinking.” February 2017. Accessed July 14, 2019.

Windle, Michael, et al. “Transitions into underage and problem[…] and 15 years of age.” Pediatrics, April 2008. Accessed July 14, 2019.

Friese, Bettina, et al. “Youth acquisition of alcohol and drin[…] in-depth look.” Journal of Drug Education, February 12, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2019.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving[…] and Decision Making.” September 2016. Accessed July 15, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Drinking and Driving.” October 2012. Accessed July 15, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs: Alcohol poisoning deaths[…]tates, 2010-2012.” January 9, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol facts and statistics.” August 2018. Accessed July 15, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” Accessed July 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.