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Frequently Asked Questions

Preventing Underage Alcohol Use

How common is underage drinking?

Alcohol is the drug of choice among American adolescents. More 8th, 10th, and 12th graders drink alcohol than use tobacco or other drugs. In 2015, about one third (35.3 percent) of 12th graders, about one fifth (21.5 percent) of 10th graders, and one tenth (9.7 percent) of 8th graders reported having used alcohol during the past month.1

How many adolescents in the United States drink alcohol?

In 2014, about 2.9 million 12- to 17-year-olds reported alcohol use during the past month. About 1.5 million youth in this age group reported binge drinking, meaning that nearly half of them who used alcohol drank at least 5 drinks on a single occasion during that month. About one-quarter of a million youth reported heavy drinking, or having at least 5 drinks on at least 5 occasions during the month2

When do young people first begin drinking?

In 2014, more than 2 million 12- to 17-year-olds reported their first alcohol use during the past year, which averages to approximately 6,400 adolescents/day who began alcohol use.3 The average age at which someone under age 21 began drinking is about age 16.4 Almost one-fifth of those who drink underage begin using alcohol before they are 13 years old.5

Does early use of alcohol increase the risk of alcohol dependence?

Yes. In 2013, adults who had first used alcohol at age 14 or younger were more likely to be classified with alcohol dependence or abuse than were those who had their first drink at age 21 or older (14.8 vs. 2.3 percent).6

When should parents, caregivers, and other adults begin to talk with young people about underage drinking?

It is never too early to talk to your child about alcohol. Most 6-year-olds know that alcohol is only for adults. Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to view alcohol more positively. Among 8th-grade students, about 10 percent report past-month alcohol use.7

Why is underage drinking everyone’s problem?

Underage drinking is a public health problem that affects the safety and well-being of everyone in a community—not just underage drinkers and their families. In 2013, 17 percent of 16- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.8

What does underage drinking cost the United States?

Underage drinking cost U.S. citizens $62 billion in 2010. These costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from alcohol consumption by youth.8 Visit the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center SAMHSA Exit Disclaimer Page for estimates of costs by state.

Can underage drinking be prevented?

Underage drinking and its consequences can be prevented, as shown by the progress being made. Between 2002 and 2014, current, binge, and heavy drinking by 12- to 20-year-olds all declined, with heavy drinking cut in half (from 29 to 23 percent, 19 to 14 percent, and 6 to 3 percent, respectively).9 In 2015, alcohol use and drunkenness among 8th to 12th graders reached the lowest levels recorded since 1975.10 Age 21 minimum legal drinking laws have reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 13 percent and, as of 2012, have saved an estimated 29,292 lives since 1975.11 Further progress can be achieved through strong, continuing prevention efforts.

How can parents, teachers, and other adults help prevent underage drinking?

Parents, teachers, and other adults play a vital role in influencing the attitudes and behaviors of young people toward alcohol use. Adults can:

  • Talk with young people about the potential health, social, and legal consequences of underage drinking;
  • Convey clear and consistent messages that underage drinking is unacceptable;
  • Help young people build the practical skills to avoid peer pressure to use alcohol;
  • Support and reinforce the ability of young people to make healthy decisions; and
  • Organize events, such as Town Hall Meetings, to engage young people and others in the community in using evidenced-based approaches to prevent underage drinking.

Parents and caregivers can find more information about discussing alcohol use consequences with children ages 9 to 15 at, the homepage for “Talk. They Hear You.”

Where can I find information on effective prevention approaches? is the web portal for the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking and your gateway to comprehensive research and resources on prevention.

SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs is a searchable online registry of interventions supporting mental health promotion, substance abuse prevention, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Search under “underage drinking” for programs to prevent and reduce underage drinking.


1, 7, 10 Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Miech, R. A., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2016). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use.

2, 9 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50).

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Risk and protective factors and initiation of substance use: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. NSDUH Data Review.

4, 6 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863.

5 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, June 8). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(4).

8 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2014). Traffic Safety Facts: 2013 Data. DOT HS 812 102.

11 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2014). Young drivers. Traffic Safety Facts: 2012. (DOT HS 812 419).