Is underage drinking safe? Learn more about common myths surrounding underage drinking and the dangerous truths about this risky behavior.

Underage drinking can be acceptable to some parents. Some may turn a blind eye to it, and others may even give their children the occasional drink. Unfortunately, many people do not recognize the dangers of underage drinkingbecause they have not learned the difference between underage drinking myths and facts. Underage drinking myths contribute to the risks of underage drinking and increase the permissiveness of this dangerous activity.

Myth: Underage drinking really isn’t a big deal, all the kids are doing it.

While it is true that a large percentage of high schoolers drink alcohol, it does not negate the potential dangers of underage drinking. Underage drinking statistics show that 30% of high schoolers report drinking alcohol within the last 30 days. While kids drinking alcohol may be somewhat common, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.

Fact: Excessive drinking by underage youth kills 4,300 annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4,300 underage drinkers die each year. Around 119,000 emergency room visits each year are by 12–21-year-olds for alcohol-related injuries. 

Teenagers are more likely to take risks and make poor judgments than adults, even while sober. When alcohol use is also involved, the risk of injury or death increases significantly. Additionally, teenagers are more likely to have poor judgment about how much alcohol is safe to use. Binge drinking is also a bigger problem for this age group, with teenage binge drinking accounting for 90% of teenage drinking.

Myth: Underage drinking has nothing to do with suicide rates.

Another common myth about underage drinking is that it does not increase teen suicide rates. People mistakenly assume that there is no link between teen alcohol abuse and increased risk of self-harm.

Fact: Teens who drink are almost 24 times more likely to intentionally injure themselves.

One thing that contributes to underage drinking deaths is suicide. Teens who drink alcohol — especially those who binge drink — are significantly more likely to try to injure or kill themselves. This includes cutting, attempting to hang themselves or attempting to poison themselves. Teenagers who drink alcohol are also more likely to consider suicide than those who do not drink. Research has shown that states with strictly enforced laws against teenage drunk driving show a decrease in teenage suicides, compared to states without these laws.

Myth: Underage drinking doesn’t have any real long-term consequences.

People often want to let their kids have fun and live a little. Sometimes, this desire translates into permissiveness with underage drinking. Because adults are more fully developed, they often do not stop and consider the potential, long-lasting consequences of underage drinking.

Fact: Underage drinking causes permanent loss in brain development.

While we sometimes think of teenagers as young adults, the teenage years are a critical time for brain development. Research shows that the impact of underage drinking on the adolescent brain can be devastating. Teenagers who drink have been shown to score lower on tests that measure intellectual ability than those who do not drink. Not only are there subjective differences in scores and intellectual performance, but alcohol can also physically impact youth brain development. Some areas of the brain are physically smaller in teens who drink when compared to teens who do not, and these teens are more likely to have problems with attention, self-regulation and impulsivity.

Myth: Experimentation has nothing to do with later dependence.

Often, people do not consider that drinking during high school may later lead to alcoholism or drug addiction. Teenage alcoholism is not a concept that is normally considered to exist; however, it can and does occur. Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol use during adolescence can lead to long-term alcohol addiction problems during adulthood.

Fact: Those who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent adults.

Research shows that youth who drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol later in life. The average age when youth first try alcohol is between 15 and 18, a critical time in brain development when coping mechanisms and social behaviors are being learned. The introduction of alcohol as a part of life at an early age can rewire the brain to seek out potential sources of pleasure from alcohol or substances. If can also teach teens that when difficult situations arise, a good way to cope is by drinking alcohol. These effects, in turn, develop into natural responses and desires that last into adulthood.

Myth: Teens binge drink when they haven’t learned to drink responsibly at home.

Teenage binge drinking is a common problem for teenagers. Many people may believe that this is because teenagers have not learned to drink responsibly and that by drinking at home with parents, teenagers may learn how to practice moderation in their drinking.

Fact: Underage youth intake more than 90% of the alcohol they consume by binge drinking.

Binge drinking among teens is the most common way that alcohol is used by this age group. Over 90% of teenage drinking can be classified as binge drinking, and there is no evidence that suggests that this is because they haven’t learned to drink. One study found that the more teenagers were exposed to alcohol at home, the more likely they were to drink outside the home. Learning to drink responsibly starts by avoiding alcohol while underage and involves learning about the effects and risks of alcohol use.

The Recovery Village Alcohol Survey Results

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

If your teen drinks alcohol, there are several dangers that they are likely to face, both now and into adulthood. Teenagers who use alcohol require professional treatment to prevent the dangerous effects of underage drinking. The Recovery Village has a strong record of helping teenagers recover from alcoholism. Reach out to one of our understanding team members to learn how your teen can get compassionate, evidence-based help today.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking.” August 2, 2018. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Federal Trade Commission. “Answering Questions About Underage Drinking.” 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Hiller-Sturmhöfel, Susanne; Swartzwelder, H. Scott. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Adolescent Brain—What Can Be Learned From Animal Models.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Johns Hopkins. “The Toll of Underage Drinking.” March 2016. Accessed August 24, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. “Age of Drinking Onset Predicts Future Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.” January 14, 1998. Accessed August 29, 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.