Youth & Underage Drinking

Prevalence of Drinking in Different Age Groups

  • In 1998, 10.4 million current drinkers were under the legal age (age 12 to 20). Of these, 5.1 million were binge drinkers, including 2.3 million heavy drinkers. Young people begin to take risks and experiment as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Without support and guidance, some young people may engage in behaviors that place them and others at risk - including using alcohol.
  • Peer pressure begins early. One-third of 4th graders and more than half of 6th graders say they have been pressured by friends to drink alcohol.
  • On average, young people begin drinking at about age 13, but some start even younger. By the time they are high school seniors, more than 80% have used alcohol and approximately 64% have been drunk. When adolescents move on to college, they bring their drinking habits with them: more than 40% of college students are binge drinkers.

Adolescents' Beliefs About Alcohol

  • 22% of youth under age 18 report drinking at least once a week.
  • 56% of students in grades 5 through 12 say that alcohol advertising encourages them to drink.
  • 75% of 8th graders and 89% of 10th graders believe that alcohol is readily available to them for consumption.
  • 80% of 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed think that alcohol negatively affects scholastic performance, and 81% believe it increases the likelihood of getting into trouble.
  • Adolescents ages 12 and 13 see other people, including their parents, as less disapproving of their engaging in drinking than do younger children.
  • Adolescents ages 12 to 14 believe that the positive benefits of drinking (feeling good, fitting in with peers) are more likely to occur than the negative effects of drinking (feeling sick, causing serious health problems). White non-Hispanic children tend to hold more favorable beliefs about alcohol than African American children.
  • Boys' beliefs tend to be more favorable toward drinking than those of girls. Boys also tend to associate drinking with being more grown up - a perceived positive outcome of drinking.
  • In an annual survey of adolescents, 56% of 8th graders, 52% of 10th graders, and 43% of 12th graders believe that having five or more drinks once or twice each weekend is harmful. Survey results also show that 81% of 8th graders, 70% of 10th graders, and 65% of 12th graders, disapprove of this quantity and rate of alcohol consumption.
  • Very young children - even preschoolers - can tell that alcohol has an effect on people that other beverages do not. In fact, children begin forming opinions about alcohol at an early age, and they tend to view it negatively.
  • Youth ages 12 to 14 who expect to gain greater social acceptance from drinking are more likely to begin to drink as well as to consume alcohol at faster rates. White non-Hispanic children tended to be more concerned with their friends' attitudes about alcohol than African American children were.