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.
Article at a Glance:
- Underage drinking is still a major problem in our society even though usage has been declining in recent years.
- Binge drinking is common among teens who consume alcohol for the sole reason of getting drunk.
- Drunk driving is a leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.
- Teen drinking can lead to other drug use, academic problems, unplanned pregnancies, violent behavior, arrests and serious injuries.
- A teen may need alcohol rehab if he/she experiences problems with school, moods, memory or energy.
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.
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.
We surveyed 2,136 American adults who either wanted to stop drinking alcohol or had already tried to (successfully or not). We asked them about their alcohol use, reasons for drinking, alcohol-related outcomes, health and more.
Among those surveyed:
- 10.1% had their first alcoholic drink at 11 years old or younger
- 37.5% had their first alcoholic drink between 12–17 years old
- 39.7% had their first alcoholic drink between 18–25 years old
- 12.6% had their first alcoholic drink at 26 years old or older
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
- Physical and sexual assault
- Serious injury
- Problems in school
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Violent behavior
Common causes of alcohol-related deaths in teens include:
- Alcohol poisoning
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.
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
- Low self-esteem
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
- 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.
Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. “Underage Drinking Statistics.” (n.d.) Accessed June 22, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States:Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Published September 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage Drinking.” Updated February 2017. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Esser MB, Clayton H, Demissie Z, et al. “Current and Binge Drinking Among High School Students — United States, 1991–2015.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published May 12, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2019.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking.” Published August 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Drinking and Driving.” Published October 2012. Accessed June 22, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Risks of Underage Drinking.” Updated June 3, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.
The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. “Reducing Underage Drinking: a Collective Responsibility.” Published 2004. Accessed June 22, 2019.
Yaogo, A; Fombonne, E; Lert, F; Melchior M. “Adolescent Repeated Alcohol Intoxication as a Predictor of Young Adulthood Alcohol Abuse: The Role of Socioeconomic Context.” Substance Use and Misuse, published 2015. Accessed June 22, 2019.
- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.