Even though they are not of legal drinking age in the United States, many teens have easy access to alcohol. Teen drinking is common and can lead to serious problems like alcohol abuse, accidents and long-lasting physical and emotional problems. If you are a teen who drinks, or if you have teenaged loved ones who drink, it is important to understand the risks.

Teen Alcohol Abuse & Underage Drinking Statistics

Although teen drinking rates have been mostly declining over the past 15 years, they still pose a problem. Nearly 10% of kids ages 12 to 17 have had a drink in the past month. As teens get older, their risk of drinking increases. By the time they turn 15, 33% of teens have had at least one drink. By the time they turn 18, 60% of teens have had a drink.

Most teens drink with the purpose of getting drunk, and research shows that most high schoolers who drink tend to binge drink: According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 61% of underage drinkers reported binge drinking over the past month. Binge drinking tends to involve a large amount of alcohol but is defined differently for males and females. For males, binge drinking means having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least one day in the past month. For females, it means having four or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month.

Teen Drunk Driving Statistics

The leading cause of death for American teens is car crashes. Being drunk is a huge risk factor for crashes. About 20% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes are drunk, a tragedy that is linked to more than 1,500 deaths a year. In 81% of these cases, the teen’s blood-alcohol level was higher than the legal limit for adults. When a teen is drunk, they have the same symptoms as drunk adults, including:

  • Slowed motor functions
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Blurred vision
  • Perception changes
  • Blackouts

Because of the risks of teen drinking and driving, it is important to teach teens to plan for situations to avoid it. These may include:

  • Teaching teens never to drink and drive
  • Telling teens never to be a passenger with a drunk driver
  • Offering to drive or pick up a teen if they or their driver is drinking

Dangers of Teen Alcohol Abuse

Many risks are linked to teen drinking, which can impact a teen’s life in many ways. Teens who drink are at a higher risk of:

  • Abusing other substances
  • Alcoholism
  • Legal problems
  • Violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Injury
  • Academic problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Death

Not counting car accidents, drinking plays a role in approximately 4,358 teen deaths every year. Alcohol is linked to many causes of death in teens, including:

  • Murder
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Falls
  • Burns
  • Drowning
  • Suicide

Teens can be harmed by drinking even when they are not drunk. Academic problems and poor grades are common in teens who drink. Further, getting caught with alcohol can lead to expulsion from school. Teens who drink are more likely than others to drop out of school. Even if teens stay in school, drinking can create legal troubles or problems with friends and family.

The effects of teen drinking can last for years. Alcohol can change teen hormone levels in puberty, leading to growth problems. Long-term effects of drinking on teen brains are also possible, leading to a higher risk of:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor self-esteem

Signs of Alcohol Abuse Among Teens

Teen drinking may be hard to notice, especially if a teen tries to hide it. However, over time, the problem can escalate into addiction and become more noticeable. Although behavior changes are common in the teen years, some are more worrying than others. If you notice more than one sign or the signs are extreme, the chances of your teen engaging in underage alcohol use are higher.

Common signs of teen drinking include:

  • Mood changes
  • Problems at school
  • Rebellion
  • Changing friends
  • Secrecy
  • Finding or smelling alcohol

Teen Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Up to 12% of kids aged 12 through 20 meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder. Often, issues with substance abuse don’t get better as an individual gets older, especially if teen alcoholism goes untreated. The younger someone is when they start to drink, the higher their risk of alcoholism. This is especially true for teens that start drinking before the age of 15, who have a 41% risk of alcoholism when they are older. That risk drops to only 10% for those who wait until they are 21 to start drinking.

Because of the high risk of continued alcohol abuse, it is important to address alcohol use in your teen as soon as possible. At the Orlando Recovery Center, we can discuss your teen’s situation and direct you to evidence-based treatment options. Contact us today to learn more.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…] Drug Use and Health.” September 2018. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. “Underage Drinking Statistics.” Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage Drinking.” February 2017. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Esser Marissa B., et al. “Current and Binge Drinking Among High Sc[…] States, 1991–2015.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 12, 2017. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Teen Drinking and Driving.” October 2012. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Tice, Peter, et al. “Substance Use Among 12th Grade Aged Yout[…]s, by Dropout Status.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 15, 2017. Accessed August 25, 2019.

National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. “Reducing Underage Drinking: a Collective Responsibility.” 2004. Accessed August 25, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “How To Tell If Your Child Is Drinking Alcohol.” September 20, 2017. Accessed August 25, 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.