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Negative Consequences of Underage Drinking

Adolescence can be a wonderful time filled with physical and emotional growth. For some youth, however, adolescence takes a dark turn, especially when underage alcohol use is involved.

Underage alcohol use increases the risk of academic failure, illicit drug use, and tobacco use. It can cause a range of physical consequences, from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning, suicide, homicide, and traffic crashes. Annually, about 4,700 people under age 21 die from injuries involving underage drinking.1

Underage alcohol use also can alter the structure and function of the developing brain, which continues to mature into the mid- to late twenties, and may have consequences reaching far beyond adolescence.2 For example, those who start using alcohol while young are at greater risk of developing alcohol problems as adults. In 2012, adults who had first used alcohol before age 15 were more than seven times as likely to experience alcohol dependence or abuse as those who waited until age 21 for their first drink (15.2 vs. 2.1 percent).3

Sources

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Atlanta, GA: Author.

2 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Underage drinking: A growing health care concern.

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of national findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Author.