Underage Drinking Prevention

Even as e-cigarettes have become heavily used by teens, alcohol remains the number one substance abused by young people in the U.S. 

 Though underage drinking had dipped slightly during the pandemic, it is quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels. According to a 2022 survey completed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 52% of twelfth grade students reported using alcohol in the last year, as had 31% of 10th graders and 15% of eighth graders.  

Impact Of Underage Drinking On Health

Since alcohol is legal to consume for individuals aged 21 and older, teens may not think they will suffer significant health impacts. 

 However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports individuals who drink underage are more likely to experience: 

  • School problems, such as absenteeism or lower grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting or avoiding youth activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrests for driving or fighting while drunk.
  • Vehicle accidents.
  • Accidental injuries, such as burns, falls or drowning.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers.
  • Unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sex.
  • Disruption of normal growth or sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Memory problems.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Underage Drinking Statistics

The 2019 Youth Behavioral Risk Survey found in the U.S.: 

  • 29% of high schoolers drank alcohol.
  • 14% of high schoolers binge drank. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men or four or more drinks on an occasion for women.
  • 5% of high schoolers who drank drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 17% of high schoolers had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • 40% of students who drank alcohol reported being given alcohol by another person. 

Talking To Young People About Underage Drinking

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that 80% of children ages 10-18 report their parents are the biggest influence when they decide whether or not to drink alcohol. Children will encounter alcohol and other substances at some point in their lives, and proactive conversations are important to help them make safe, smart decisions. 

SAMSHA offers the following guidance for navigating these conversations: 

  • Have short, frequent conversations about alcohol, especially as your child enters middle and high school. 
  • One “big talk” can be intimidating for you and your child – opt for more frequent, casual conversations instead. 
  • Be clear about your views and expectations about alcohol. 
  • Adjust the conversation as your child gets older and offer more information as they mature. 
  • Be sure to let the conversations go both ways; listen to your child’s thoughts and answer their questions. 
  • Lead by example – conversations are important, but your child is watching your actions as well. 

Resources For Help

For information on underage drinking and resources on talking with young people, visit samhsa.gov/talk-they-hear-you

You can also connect with our Public Health Promotion and Prevention team at 269.927.5622.