Underage Drinking: Facts and Prevention

CB106470As school winds down and summer approaches, many teens are full of excitement over celebrations, such as graduation, and the free time they know they will have during school break. However, it’s important for parents to know that risks for their teens increase during the summer season. A report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy shows that more American teens try cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol for the first time in summer than at any other time of year.


  • Alcohol is the most widely abused substance among youth because it is:
    • the most socially acceptable drug among teens (only 34% of teens strongly disapprove of their peers getting drunk), and
    • the most easily obtained drug for adolescents (77% of teens say alcohol is easily accessible and 53% report their source for alcohol is family or friends).
  • Approximately 10% of 9- to 10-year-olds have started drinking. Nearly one-third of youth begin drinking before age 13.
  • Most teens drink excessively. About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking (5 drinks for men and 4 for women in the space of two hours or less).
  • Forty-four percent of teens believe that drinking 5 or more drinks nearly every day is not a “great risk.”
  • Seven of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers occur during the summer. Car accidents are the number one cause of death among teens in the U.S., and 1 out of 3 teen drivers who die in car crashes are under the influence of alcohol.



Teens decide to try alcohol for many reasons, but some of the most common are:

  • asserting their independence
  • desire for adventure or risk
  • ignorance of alcohol’s negative effects on their health and behavior
  • peer pressure
  • to escape or relax,
  • to relieve boredom
  • curiosity



There are many risks and negative consequences to underage drinking, such as:

  • Death. Unfortunately, almost 5,000 youth die every year as a result of alcohol use. Using alcohol can result in falls, car crashes, alcohol poisoning, drowning, violence, and suicides.
  • Injury. Almost 200,000 people, under age 21, visit the emergency room each year for significant injuries or other conditions related to alcohol.
  • Poor judgment. Alcohol impairs our ability to think rationally, and as a result can lead to poor decisions. Risky behavior, such as drunk driving, unprotected sex, and violent behavior, can lead to life-altering results.
  • Sexual assault. Underage drinkers are more likely to rape or be raped after drinking.
  • Addiction. Using alcohol before the brain has fully developed dramatically increases the risk for future addiction to alcohol and drugs.  Young people who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence than people who first used alcohol at age 21 or older.
  • Cognitive problems. The human brain does not reach full development until age 25, and alcohol actually alters this development. It is possible for alcohol abuse to cause cognitive or learning problems.


What Parents Can Do

Parents have tremendous influence on whether their child decides to drink or not. Here are things you can do:

  • Explain the effects of alcohol. Talk to your teen about the dangers of alcohol, as listed in the above section. Discuss what alcohol (and other drug) use means for your child’s mental and physical health, and safety. Explain how alcohol impairs your teen’s ability to make good decisions and how that can have life-altering consequences.
  • Role model. If you drink, make sure you use responsible drinking behavior. Never drive after drinking any amount of alcohol (your teen will not be able to distinguish one glass of wine for an adult versus two beers for an adolescent). Only drink in moderation, and seek professional help if you are struggling with an alcohol problem. Finally, do not use alcohol as a way to cope with your problems. If you’re stressed, model deep breathing or exercising, rather than drinking.
  • Do not give your teen alcohol. In addition to being illegal, there is no way for teens to understand the mixed message of being able to have a drink with their parents, but not have a drink with their friends.
  • Be clear that you disapprove of underage drinking. In April 2014, a survey from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) showed that teens whose parents tell them that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens whose parents give them other messages about underage drinking.
  • Stay open with your teen. Have regular conversations with your teen about their life. Attend their activities. Schedule family time to connect. Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents.
  • Fight the media culture. Kids, ages 11-14, see approximately 1,000 alcohol ads a year. Make sure that you discuss the commercials, movies, and advertisements that the media is providing. Your teen should not just receive messages about alcohol (and other drugs) from peers and media. They should also hear what you have to say. You have a lot more influence than you might think.

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