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Why Teen Drinking is Dangerous

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Teenage drinking is a serious and ongoing problem in the United States. Indeed, alcohol is the most frequently used substance among teens. Teen drinking leads to alcohol intoxication that can result in injury, health issues, and even death.

When a person under the age of 21 imbibes alcohol, this is known as teen drinking. Also, it’s called underage drinking, since teens are not legally allowed to use alcohol. Recent alcohol use statistics show that teen drinking is very common.

Facts About Underage Drinking

Here are a few teenage drinking facts that reveal how many teens drink, and why adolescent alcohol consumption is so dangerous.

  • 61 percent of high school students have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and 23 percent of high school students have consumed alcohol by 8th grade.
  • 46 percent of 12th graders have been drunk at least once in their life, and 9 percent of 8th graders have been drunk at least once in their life.
  • Alcohol plays a role in more than 30 percent of teenage deaths involving accidents, homicide or suicide. In addition, teen alcohol abuse is linked to 189,000 emergency rooms visits by adolescents under age 21.
  • More than 1.6 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported driving under the influence of alcohol in 2014.
  • In a national survey on teenage binge drinking, one in eight college students (12 percent) reported having 10 or more drinks in a row within a two-week period. Moreover, one in 25 reported having 15 or more drinks in a row at least once in those two weeks.
  • Statistics on underage drinking show that youth who drink are more likely to carry out or be the victim of a physical or sexual assault after drinking than others their age who do not drink.

Additionally, there are other dangerous consequences of underage drinking, which we will look at later.

Risk Factors for Teenage Alcohol Abuse

First, let’s look at why and how teens start abusing alcohol. There are environmental, emotional, and behavioral factors that contribute to underage drinking.

Risk factors for teen drinking include:

  • Not enough parental supervision
  • Spending time with peers who abuse alcohol
  • Availability of alcohol in the home, or through family members or friends
  • Experiencing higher levels of impulsiveness, novelty seeking, or aggressive behavior
  • Having conduct or behavior problems
  • Difficulty looking at the possible negative consequences of one’s actions.

However, even without those risk factors, many teens use alcohol and teen drinking is common.

Here are some of the reasons why kids drink:

  • Curiosity about what it’s like to be drunk
  • Feeling stressed out and wanting to relax
  • Peer pressure
  • Looking for a way to self-medicate the pain of mental health conditions or emotional problems
  • Thinking that drinking is cool and sophisticated
  • Wanting to be more independent.

Read “How Teens Get Drunk Without Alcoholic Beverages.”

Warning Signs of Teen Drinking and Alcoholism

Signs of underage drinking or alcohol abuse include the following: 

  • Increased anger and irritability
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems at school
  • Acting rebellious and defiant
  • Ignoring responsibilities, such as school, sports, or clubs
  • Finding a new group of friends
  • Low energy
  • Decreased interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Not seeming to care about their appearance
  • Problems concentrating and/or remembering
  • Slurred speech
  • Smell of alcohol on their breath
  • Coordination problems.

When a teen connects drinking with their emotional state, this can be a sign of alcoholism. In other words, they may be using alcohol to suppress or self-medicate feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, or depression.

If you are concerned that your child is abusing alcohol, there is professional help available. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

The Dangers and Consequences of Underage Drinking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are many negative consequences to alcohol abuse in adolescence.

Teens who drink are more likely to experience the following issues:

  • Problems at school, such as more absences and more failing grades
  • Social conflicts, including fighting and isolation from activities and peers
  • Legal problems, such as being arrested for driving while under the influence, or attacking someone while intoxicated
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and/or unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth, brain development, and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Suicide or homicide
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning
  • Issues with memory and cognition
  • Abusing other drugs
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.

Furthermore, teen alcohol abuse can also increase a teenager’s chances of becoming physically dependent on alcohol as an adult. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 74 percent of adults participating in a substance abuse treatment program started using alcohol or drugs before the age of 17.

Read “10 Facts About Teen Drug Abuse.”

The Physical Effects of Teen Drinking

Underage alcohol intoxication can also cause long-term physical issues. For one, teen alcohol abuse can cause delays in sexual development. Moreover, frequent drinking can cause weight gain, which may eventually put teens at risk for developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

Teenagers who keep drinking into adulthood have a higher risk of developing liver problems. The liver helps metabolize nutrients and rid the system of harmful toxins. The liver also metabolizes alcohol. Therefore, excessive drinking can put a tremendous strain on this vital organ.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, long-term drinkers are more likely to get certain types of cancer. Specifically, alcohol consumption is linked to higher risks of cancer of the head, neck, stomach, and breasts. Alcohol can also harm the pancreas, causing a severely painful condition called pancreatitis.

Alcohol and the Teenage Brain

Underage drinking consequences include damage to the brain. A teenager’s brain is at a vulnerable stage of development. Therefore, alcohol interferes with this development, causing permanent changes in the ability to learn and remember.

Research conducted by neuropsychologists at Duke University indicates that teenage drinking may damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain that enables us to learn and remember. Studies conducted on adolescent rats showed that younger drinkers may be even more likely to suffer neurocognitive deficits than older adults who drink. Moreover, this is especially true if they drink to the point of blacking out.

The Duke research team also found that an alarming number of college-age drinkers experience blackouts during heavy episodes of alcohol intoxication. In an electronic survey of almost 800 college students, the researchers found that just over half of the students who responded reported that they had blacked out while drinking.

Protecting Kids Against Teen Alcoholism

Parents’ actions can significantly impact a teenager’s attitude toward drinking and their willingness to try alcohol while underage.

Here are a few steps parents can take to prevent teen alcohol abuse.

  • Communicate with your teen about the dangers of drinking.
  • If you drink alcohol, always do so responsibly.
  • Do not give your teen access to alcohol.
  • Make a point of getting to know your teen’s friends.
  • Supervise parties to make sure there is no alcohol available.
  • Stay in touch with what’s happening in your teen’s life.
  • Help your teen find hobbies and activities that give them a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved in their lives are less likely to drink alcohol. Parents can make a real and powerful difference.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration