Underage drinking is defined as drinking by those under the legal drinking age of 21 in the United States. Recent data do show that this is on the decline, but it does remain an issue of concern as young people who drink are more likely to develop alcohol problems in adulthood. There is also the issue of the effect of alcohol on developing brains.
For this reason, statistics regarding underage drinkers are well kept so changes in patterns can be recognized. The remarkable thing about the different surveys is how consistent they are across all organizations doing this research. This type of cross consistency is very useful for decision and policymaking.
The information given here is all culled from reliable sources and points to a decreasing rate of alcohol dependency amongst those under the legal drinking age, it indicates that there is still a need to address the issue and reduce it further. Some of the results are truly surprising and counter common stereotypes.
Essential Underage Drinking Statistics
#1. 14% of high school students engaged in binge drinking in the 30 days prior to the 2019 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey. This is in keeping with general findings. (CDC)
#2. Less than 1% of 12 year-olds have used alcohol. At 16 the figure has increased to 16% and at 20 it is 46% (The Recovery Village)
#3 In 2011, roughly 188,000 underage drinkers went to emergency rooms for treatment of injuries related to alcohol. This forms part of the effective cost of underage drinking to the USA of $24 billion annually. (NIAAA)
#4. In a 2019 study, it was revealed that 825,000 youths had engaged in binge drinking 5 or more times over the past month. (NIAAA)
#5. 414, 000 people aged 12-17 have an alcohol abuse disorder. About 34% of this group go to rehab to aid with recovery. (NIAAA)
#6. A thousand homicides a year involving people under 21 feature alcohol as a factor. (NIAAA)
#7. A national survey shows that underage respondents have found it increasingly difficult to procure alcohol. This has been a continuing trend over the last 25 years and is reflected in feedback for 8th grade students, 10th graders as well as 12th grade students. (NIDA)
#8. 23% of people between 18 and 20 engaged in binge drinking in the past month. 3 percent of 14-15 year-olds and 11% of those in the 16 – 17 age range report the same. (SAMHSA)
#9. A breakdown of youth drinking shows that 22% of whites are at greater risk of consuming an alcoholic beverage. (SAMHSA)
#10. Underage drinking is more prevalent among females than males with 20% of females as opposed to 17% of males. This represents an inversion of the last quarter-century when drinking was more prevalent amongst young males. (SAMHSA)
#11. Data shows adults drink more frequently than underage drinkers, but underage people are more likely to binge than older drinkers. (ICCPUD)
#12. 72.8% of underage drinkers will have between 1 and fours drinks on any given occasion, but 7% will consume nine or more. (ICCPUD)
#13. Alcohol use disorder is significantly lower in the 18-20-year-old age range at 7.7 % than it is in the 21-24-year-old bracket where it stands at 11.7%. The trend for the 12-20-year-old age group is moving significantly lower with alcohol dependence for this age group moving from 9.6% in 2004 to 3.7% in 2018. (ICCPUD)
#14. When adults such as parents binge drink there is more chance of underage drinking. In places where adult binge drinking is 5% higher than the norm, there is a 12% increase in the odds of underage drinking. (CDC)
#15. A survey found that 19% of 12 to 20 year-olds drank within the previous 30 days and that 11% considered themselves to have binged. Extrapolating from this it means that 58% of drinkers in this age range binge drink. (CDC)
#16. In a survey, 10.1% of adults reported that they had their first drink at 11 or younger. (The Recovery Village)
#17. When it comes to substance use., adolescents are more likely to drink than use tobacco or marijuana. For those aged 16-17, 7.6% are likely to have smoked, 14.9% to have used marijuana and 19.3% are likely to have engaged in the use of alcohol. (NIAAA)
#18. There is a marked correlation between early drinking and a higher risk of alcohol dependence as an adult. Someone who started drinking before 15 is 5.6 times more likely to experience alcohol addiction as an adult. (NIAAA)
#19. Almost 20% of youths who drink report getting the alcohol from a parent or guardian and about 18% are likely to have taken it from home. In the 15-17 age group, about 25% get drinks from a non-relative under the age of 21. Those between 18-and 20 are most likely to procure alcohol from an unrelated person 21 or older. (ICCPUD)
#20. Less than 10% of the 12-20 age group drink alone and more than 70% drink with two or more other people. Males are more likely to drink alone - 11.7% vs 6.9% for females. (ICCPUD)
#21. Alcohol is involved in the deaths of 4300 people under 21 each year. Of 1, 884 drivers between 15 and 20 who were killed 440 had alcohol in them and 362 were above the legal limit. (SAMHSA)
#22. Underage alcohol use increases the likelihood of risky behaviors and social problems. These can include suicide, rapes, assaults, and homicides. It can also lead to accidents such as falling. Additionally, drinking problems can lead to poor sexual judgment and alcohol poisoning. (SAMHSA)
#23. Genes account for over 50% of the risk of alcohol dependency with environmental and enviro-genetic factors making up the rest. However, no single gene is responsible, but there is no doubt that if family members have alcoholism it may affect the younger drinker making heredity one of the main risk factors in alcohol addiction. (ICCPUD)
#24. Many underage drinkers consume energy drinks and alcohol simultaneously. This can lead to exaggerated perceptions of confidence, leading them to consider themselves to be more capable than they are. This leads to an increased chance of risky behavior and accidents. Drinking caffeinated beverages with liquor also correlates with longer drinking times. (ICCPUD)
#25. It is estimated that since 1975 minimum age drinking laws have saved 31, 959 lives. Most of these since the passing of the National Minimum Age Drinking Act in 1984 which enforced a minimum legal purchase age and prescribes not a minimum drinking age, but a minimum age for alcohol sales.
#26. In recent years there has been a decline in the awareness of the risks of binge drinking amongst 12th grade students. This change in perception is not reflected in lower years. Disapproval of weekend binge drinking follows the same trend. (MTF)
CDC - Center for Disease Control
ICCPUD - Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking
MTF – Monitoring the Future
NIAAA - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
NIDA - National Institute on Drug Abuse
SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The following defines some of the terms used in this article
Binge drinking - drinking 5 drinks or more on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on any occasion for women)
Heavy drinking – the consumption of 15 or more drinks per week for men or 8 plus drinks per week for women. Additionally, any alcohol use by those under the legal age or by pregnant women is also considered heavy alcohol use.