Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic

    Published: February 2003

    Alcohol is the number one substance of choice among America’s teens, and underage drinking is a serious problem that can have deadly consequences. Teenagers who drink are more likely than those who do not to have sex, to have sex at an earlier age and to have sex with multiple partners. Alcohol damages the young brain, interferes with mental and social development and interrupts academic progress. It is a major contributing factor in the three leading causes of teen death — accident, homicide and suicide — and increases the chances of juvenile delinquency and crime.

    Key Takeaways

    This report found that more than 5 million high schoolers engaged in binge drinking at least once a month, and that the gender gap that used to exist among underage drinkers has disappeared. A survey of adults found that:

    • 76 percent believed parents should be held legally responsible for teen drinking,
    • 85 percent called for restrictions on home delivery of alcohol,
    • 74 percent supported restrictions on alcohol advertising and
    • 54 percent supported increasing taxes on alcohol.

    This report also found that individuals who began drinking before age 15 were four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who began drinking at age 21, and that the prevalence of lifetime alcohol misuse was greatest for those who began drinking at age 14.


    For parents:

    • Be hands-on parents by being involved in children’s daily activities.
    • Be held legally responsible for children’s alcohol use through fines and community service requirements.
    • Engage children and young adults in efforts to reduce underage drinking among their peers.


    For policymakers:

    • Restrict commercial availability of alcohol to minors.
    • Ban alcohol advertising on television for beer, wine and distilled spirits.
    • Step up enforcement of underage drinking laws.

    Last Updated

    November 2023