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Underage Drinking Statistics: The Facts on Teen Drinking

Since the mid-1980s, aggressive underage drinking prevention efforts have been launched at the federal, state and local levels. National epidemiologic data suggest that these efforts have yielded positive results. Since 1982, alcohol-related traffic deaths among youth ages 16 to 20 have declined by 79%.1 The National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates decreases in heavy episodic or binge drinking among underage drinkers born in the 1990s compared to those born as far back as the 1950s.2 However, much work needs to be done as evidenced by the current statistics on underage drinking, including teens who do so excessively.

Alcohol use by young adolescents and youth is correlated with many other risky behaviors including tobacco use, co-occurring illicit substance use, sexually risky behaviors, lower school performance and externalizing behavioral problems such as conduct problems and delinquency. It is also linked to the three highest causes of adolescent mortality: drinking-related vehicular accidents, suicide and homicide.2

Underage Drinking Facts and Stats

  • According to results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in 2015, 34.7% of 15-year-olds reported having at least one drink in their lives. About 8.7 million people ages 12 to 20 (22.8%) reported drinking alcohol in the past month.3
  • In 2014, an estimated 679,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had an alcohol use disorder.3
  • Excessive drinking causes more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth every year in the U.S., and was responsible for $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.4
  • Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicate there were nearly 188,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits in 2011 in people ages 12 to 20. Of these visits, 20% resulted in serious outcomes including admission to the hospital, transfer to another healthcare facility or death.5
  • In 2015, 20% of high school students nationwide rode in a car or other vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol, one or more times in the past month.6

infographic of teen addictionsTeenage drinking is linked to poor cognitive functioning, lower mood states and poor decision-making, especially among individuals who begin drinking at an early age. Understanding the underlying cultural mechanisms that contribute to underage alcohol use is an important factor in addressing this public health crisis.7

Select Research Findings

Extensive research has been conducted on underage drinking in the U.S. and worldwide, yielding some commonalities, but also differences based on unique demographics such as cultural habits and perceptions.3

  • Adolescents tend to consume alcohol based on opportunity (e.g. parties), and heavy drinking is the norm rather than exception when they are in these situations.2
  • Youth who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.4
  • Children with parents addicted to alcohol are three to four times more likely than their peers to become addicted to alcohol.8
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth reported substance use including alcohol at almost twice the rate of heterosexual youth.2
  • Girls who begin dieting in 6th grade are more likely to misuse alcohol later in life.9
  • More than 25% of Hispanic adolescents ages 11 to 19 in the U.S. reported using alcohol during the previous 30 days and reported higher rates of binge and heavy drinking than their white peers.7
  • Among Hispanic youth, alcohol use was associated with significantly higher scores on family economic, culture and educational, acculturative gap, discrimination, community and gang violence and family and drug-related stress subscales.7

Modeling Behaviors

The role of parental responsibility in setting a positive example is integral to children developing healthy behavioral patterns. In a study of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, researchers observed that students whose parents allowed them to drink at home and/or provided them with alcohol experienced the steepest escalation in drinking. Other studies suggest that adolescents who are allowed to drink alcohol at home do so more excessively outside the home. In contrast, adolescents are less likely to drink excessively if their parents enforce specific rules against underage drinking and are responsible drinkers themselves. Parents who provide alcohol at parties attended or hosted by their adolescents are not only breaking the law, but causing a direct risk factor for excessive drinking in teens.10

Emergent Prevention Efforts

As the field of preventing/reducing underage alcohol use has evolved, growing attention has been given to the development and implementation of computer-based intervention modalities. A comprehensive review of 42 unique computer-based interventions showed that all but one demonstrated improvements in alcohol knowledge and/or attitudes. In addition, 62% of the programs showed significant reductions in alcohol-related behaviors. Unlike traditional curriculum-based, face-to-face programs, computer-based interventions offer much greater flexibility in terms of the time and location of delivery. The researchers suggested that future studies explore how these interventions can be integrated into broader efforts in schools, clinics and other community-based settings, while ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of adolescents participating in these programs.11

Although considerable strides have been made in the last few decades to reduce underage drinking, it is a complex problem with many contributing factors. It is important to intervene early if you suspect your teenager is drinking to prevent potentially tragic consequences and both short-and long-term health implications. Help your teen take the first step on the right path by calling The Right Step at 1-844-756-2656.

  1. Harding FM, Hingson RW, Klitzner M, et al. Underage Drinking: A Review of Trends and Prevention Strategies. Am J Prev Med. 2016 Jul 28. pii: S0749-3797(16)30192-1. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.05.020
  2. Windle M. Drinking Over the Lifespan: Focus on Early Adolescents and Youth. Alcohol Res. 2016;38(1):95-101.
  3. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics Updated June 2016. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  4. Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm Updated November 12, 2015. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  5. The DAWN Report: Alcohol and Drug Combinations Are More Likely to Have a Serious Outcome Than Alcohol Alone in Emergency Department Visits Involving Underage Drinking. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underage-drinking-2014/spot143-underage-drinking-2014.pdf Published July 3, 2014. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  6. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm Published June 10, 2016. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  7. Goldbach JT, Crdoso JB, Cervantes RC, Duan L. The Relation between Stress and Alcohol Use among Hispanic Adolescents. Psychol Addict Behav. 2015;29(4):960-968. doi:10.1037/adb0000133.
  8. Drug Facts: National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Nationwide Trends https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends Updated June 2015. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  9. Drinking Facts. Brad21 website. http://www.brad21.org/facts.html Accessed August 23, 2016.
  10. Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol Use. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/adolescentflyer/adolflyer.htm Published January 2016. Accessed August 23, 2016.
  11. Tebb KP, Erenrich RK, Jasik CB, Berna MS, Lester JC, Ozer EM. Use of theory in computer-based interventions to reduce alcohol use among adolescents and young adults: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 2016;16:517. doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3183-x.
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