Facts About Underage Drinking in the United States

Teens and Young Adults Who Drink: The Scope of the Problem


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), underage drinking continues to be a serious public health problem. Alcohol is easily accessed in most households and used at an alarming rate with children as young as 12.

A 2019 study indicated that nearly 25% of 14 to 15-year-olds reported having at least 1 drinking in their lifetime and 7 million people between the ages of 12-20 reported having alcohol within the past month.

Underage Binge Drinking

Binge drinking was also a common problem with over 4 million young people admitting to heavy drinking in a short period within the past month and 825,000 stating that they had engaged in binge drinking 5 or more times in the same time period.

The NIAAA estimates that over 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth aged 12-20 was done so through binge drinking. Binge drinking is generally defined as an (adult) female consuming 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours or an (adult) male consuming 5 or more drinks within 2 hours. 

Young people generally need to consume less in order to reach the same blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as an adult. The NIAAA puts the figure at around 3 drinks for female youth and 3 to 5 for male youth within a 2 hour period.

Helping to Prevent Underage Drinking

While several factors may play a role in whether someone under the age of 21 drinks, including genetics, personality, maturity, risk factors, and more, there are several things that may help.

Generally, a multi-faceted approach works best, but the NIAAA identified the following interventions to prevent underage drinking:

  • Individual-level
  • School-based
  • Family-based
  • Community-based
  • Policy-level

Parents also play a critical role in their child’s attitude toward alcohol. It is important, according to the NIAAA, for parents to talk to their children about alcohol and model drinking responsibility.

Additionally, parents should not make alcohol readily available to their children and should supervise parties where there is or could be alcohol. Studies show that the child of a parent who binge drinks is more likely to binge drink compared to a child of a parent who does not.