The legal drinking age in the United States is 21, but many teens have access to alcohol much earlier than that. Therefore, if someone is a teen or has a loved one who is a teen, it is important to know as much as possible about teen drinking and underage drinking facts.

Teen Drinking Statistics

Over the past 15 years, teen alcohol use has been declining for the most part. However, underage drinking still remains a big problem. In addition, the decrease in underage drinking rates has stalled since 2015. Overall, as of the most recent data available about underage drinking statistics in 2017, 19.7% of all underage people aged 12 to 20 reported drinking in the past 30 days. Among children aged 12 to 17, nearly 10% have used alcohol in the past month.

In addition, the risk of drinking among underage people increases as they get older. By the age of 15, 33% of people have had at least one drink. By the age of 18, that number increases to 60%

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility notes that the rate of current alcohol consumption rises by age:

  • Less than 1% of 12-year-olds have had a drink
  • About 16% of 16-year-olds have had alcohol
  • About 46% of 20-year-olds have had a drink

Similarly, the risk of drinking enough to get drunk also increases as teens get older. A graph from The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility of reported drinking patterns in 2018 showed that:

  • About 18% of 12th graders admit to getting drunk
  • About 8% of 10th graders report getting drunk
  • About 2% of 8th graders report to having had enough alcohol to get drunk

There is little difference in drinking in terms of gender. Boys are just as likely to drink as girls.

Teen Binge Drinking Statistics

Although adults of legal drinking age drink more often than teens, when teens do drink, they tend to consume more alcohol. Most teens who drink do so to get drunk. This puts teens at risk of binge drinking. Underage drinkers consume about 90% of their alcohol during binges. 

Similarly, high school binge drinking statistics show that most high school students who drink tend to binge drink. Binge drinking is defined differently depending on if someone is male or female. For males, it is defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least one day in the past month. For females, binge drinking means having four or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month.

In addition to binge drinking, there is heavy drinking. Heavy alcohol use means binge drinking on five or more days in the past month. Data about binge drinking among teens suggests that as of 2017:

  • Almost 61% of underage drinkers admitted to binge drinking in the past month
  • About 12.5% of underage drinkers admitted to heavy drinking in the past month
  • More than 20% of underage heavy drinkers also binge drank in the past month

Teenage binge drinking also impacts students as they head off to university. College binge drinking statistics are also concerning. As of 2016:

  • About 38% of college students admitted to binge drinking in college during the previous month
  • About 10.5% of college students faced heavy alcohol use over the previous month

Teen Drunk Driving Facts and Statistics

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens. Many such crashes are linked to teen drunk driving. Being drunk causes many of the same impairments in teens as in adults, including:

  • Slowed motor functions
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Blurry vision                   
  • Distorted perception

Alcohol can also cause blackouts. During a blackout, a person is completely unaware of their surroundings and actions. An overly drunk teen may not remember how their night ended. In all too many cases, they wake up in the hospital after a car accident — or don’t wake up at all — and seriously injure unsuspecting passengers, people in other cars or pedestrians.

Teen drinking and driving statistics show that:

  • Teen drunk driving accidents occur in 20% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes. The blood alcohol level in these teens was higher than the adult legal limit in 81% of cases.
  • Teens drink and drive about 2.4 million times a month
  • About 10% of teens in high school will drink and drive
  • About 85% of teens in high school who drink and drive also binge drink

Therefore, it is important to educate teens not only about the risks of drinking and driving but also to help them plan for situations to avoid it. For example, teens should be taught to never drink and drive. They should also be taught to never get into a car with a drunk driver. Parents should consider offering to transport a teen or pay for a ride if the driver would otherwise be drinking. 

Risks of Teen Drinking

The spectrum of risks associated with underage drinking is vast. Drinking can impact a teen’s young life in many different ways. Along with the significant impact of alcohol on the brain, teens who drink are at risk of:

  • Using other drugs
  • Alcoholism
  • Arrests
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Serious injury
  • Problems in school
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Violent behavior

Common causes of alcohol-related deaths in teens include:

  • Murder
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Falls
  • Burns
  • Drowning
  • Suicide

The effects of alcohol on teens can go far beyond dangers while drunk. Problems in school are common in kids who drink alcohol. Falling grades or getting caught drinking can lead to or expulsion. In addition, high school students who drink are also more likely to drop out of school. Even if they remain in school, teen alcohol use can create social problems such as losing friends as well as other issues in their relationships.

Unfortunately, the effects of drinking as a teen can be long-lasting. Drinking during puberty can alter hormone levels, disrupting normal growth. Drinking can also lead to long-term effects on the brain. These effects include an increased risk of:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem

Alcohol Abuse

Some people are surprised to learn that teen alcoholism exists. However, research suggests that teen alcohol abuse can be an important problem. In general, the younger a person is when they start drinking, the more at risk they are of alcoholism. Studies show that teens who start drinking before the age of 15 are at a higher risk of alcohol abuse than people who start drinking at older ages. 

Further, the risk of developing a problem with alcohol use later in life is increased as well. Teens who begin drinking before age 15 have a 41% chance of struggling with alcohol dependence when they are older. Among people who wait until age 21 to start drinking, the risk of alcohol dependence later in life is only 10%. Teens and alcohol are, therefore, a dangerous mix not just in the short-term, but in the long-term as well.

Overall, up to 12% of young people ages 12 to 20 years old meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence. This pattern may continue as they get older. About 12% of teen males and 3% of teen females are chronic heavy drinkers in high school and continue to drink heavily as adults.

Risk factors for a teen having an increased risk for alcohol abuse later in life include:

  • Having gotten drunk three or more times in the previous year
  • Having a low income

Does Your Teen Need Alcohol Rehab?

At first, teen drinking problems may be hard to notice. Your teen may try to hide their drinking. However, occasional teen alcohol and drug abuse can quickly escalate into teen addiction and have an impact on your home life. 

Signs of alcohol use in teens include:

  • Mood changes
  • Problems in school
  • Changes in their circle of friends
  • Rebellion
  • Low energy
  • Problems with memory
  • Finding or smelling alcohol

If your teen struggles with drinking, you may find that they’re not the same person they once were. It can be scary to discover that your teen drinks alcohol in any amount. You know the dangerous effects of alcohol on teens, so don’t ignore the situation if your teen shows signs of alcohol addiction. Instead, address the situation as soon as you can. Talk about alcohol addiction with them and consider getting them professional help if they need it. You can speak to a recovery specialist about teen alcohol abuse treatment.

At The Recovery Village, we are available to confidentially discuss your family’s situation with you, free of charge and with no obligation. We can help you determine the next steps and if a teen alcohol rehab is the right solution for you. Don’t turn a blind eye to your teen’s alcohol abuse — get them the help they need. You can start by reaching out to us and we’ll help you take it from there.