Young People and Alcohol


  • More than 10 million current drinkers in the United States are between the ages of 12-20. Of these young drinkers, 20% engage in binge drinking and 6% are heavy drinkers.[1]

  • On average, young people begin drinking at 13.1 years of age.[2]

  • By the time they are high school seniors, more than 80% have used alcohol and approximately 62% have been drunk.[3]

  • Girls are beginning to drink at younger ages. In the 1960s, 7% of 10- to 14-year-old females used alcohol; by the early 1990's, that figure had risen to 31%.[4]

  • Due to heavy or binge drinking, nearly one out of every five teenagers (16%) has experienced "black outs," after which they could not remember what happened the previous evening. [5]

  • Young people have easy access to alcohol. In alcohol purchase attempts made by researchers across the U.S., buyers who appeared to be underage were able to purchase alcohol with no questions asked at least 50% of the time. [6]


  • Alcohol is a factor in the four leading causes of death among persons ages 10 to 24: (1) motor-vehicle crashes, (2) unintentional injuries, (3) homicide, and (4) suicide. [7]

  • Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. [8]

  • More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are 7.5 times more likely to use any illicit drug, more than 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drank. [91

  • Teens under 15 who have ever consumed alcohol are twice as likely to have sex as those who have not. Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) sexually active teens who use alcohol have had sexual intercourse with four or more individuals. [10]

  • Underage drinking costs Americans nearly $53 billion annually. If this cost were shared equally by each congressional district, the amount would total more than $120 million per district. [11]

  • Researchers estimate that alcohol use is implicated in one to two-thirds of sexual assault and acquaintance or "date" rape cases among teens and college students. [12]

  • In 1999, 21% of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who were killed in crashes were intoxicated. [13]

1. Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 2000.
2. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Main Findings 1998, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
3. Monitoring the Future Study, University of Michigan, 2000.
4. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse Among Women in the U.S. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996.
5. Summary Findings American Academy of Pediatrics Survey: Teen Alcohol Consumption, American Academy of Pediatrics, September 1998.
6. Wagenaar, Alexander C., "Alcohol Compliance Checks: A Procedures Manual for Enforcing Age-of-Sale Laws," University of Minnesota Alcohol Epidemiology Program, May, 2000, p 6.
7. Kann, L., et al. (2000). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance -- United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 49(SS05): 1-96.
8. Grant, B.F., & Dawson, D. A. (1997). Age at Onset of Alcohol Use and its Association with DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse, vol. 9, p. 103-110.
9. Cigarettes, Alcohol, Marijuana: Gateways to Illicit Drug Use, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, 1994.
10. Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sex, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, 1999.
11. Costs of Underage Drinking, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, 1999.
12. Youth and Alcohol: Dangerous and Deadly Consequences, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1992.
13. Traffic Safety Facts 1999, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

May 2001