Consequences of Underage Drinking
This fact sheet was created using a 2104 report from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and The Surgeon General’s - Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce underage Drinking.
The short- and long-term consequences that arise from underage alcohol consumption are astonishing in their range and magnitude, affecting adolescents, the people around them, and society as a whole. Adolescence is a time of life characterized by robust physical health and low incidence of disease, yet overall morbidity and mortality rates increase 200 percent between middle childhood and late adolescence/early adulthood.
This dramatic rise is attributable in large part to the increase in risk-taking, sensation-seeking, and erratic behavior that follows the onset of puberty and which contributes to violence, unintentional injuries, risky sexual behavior, homicide, and suicide.
Alcohol frequently plays a role in these adverse outcomes and the human tragedies they produce. Among the most prominent adverse consequences of underage alcohol use are those listed below:
Annually, about 8,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking. Approximately:
There Is a High Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders Among the Young.
Early alcohol consumption by some young people will result in an alcohol use disorder-that is, they will meet diagnostic criteria for either alcohol abuse or dependence and the highest prevalence of alcohol dependence is among people ages 18-20
In other words, the description these young people provide of their drinking behavior meets the criteria for alcohol dependence set forth in the most recent editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - DSM-V.
Early Onset of Drinking Can Be a Marker for Future Problems, Including Alcohol Dependence and Other Substance Abuse.
Approximately 40 percent of individuals who report drinking before age 15 also describe their behavior and drinking at some point in their lives in ways consistent with a diagnosis for alcohol dependence. This is four times as many as among those who do not drink before age 21.
The Negative Consequences of Alcohol Use on College Campuses Are Widespread.
Alcohol consumption by underage college students is commonplace, although it varies from campus to campus and from person to person. Indeed, many college students, as well as some parents and administrators, accept alcohol use as a normal part of student life.
Studies consistently indicate that about 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, about 40 percent engage in binge drinking, and about 20 percent engage in frequent episodic heavy consumption, which is bingeing three or more times over the past 2 weeks.16 The negative consequences of alcohol use on college campuses are particularly serious and pervasive. For example:
Problems among underage military drinkers include: serious consequences (15.8 percent); alcohol-related productivity loss (19.5 percent); and as indicated by AUDIT scores, hazardous drinking (25.7 percent), harmful drinking (4.6 percent), or possible dependence (5.5 percent).
Children of Alcoholics/Addicts Are Especially Vulnerable to Alcohol Use Disorders.
Children of alcoholics/addicts are between 8 and 10 times more likely to become alcoholics than children from families with no alcoholic adults and therefore require special consideration when addressing underage drinking. Adolescents can be predisposed to develop alcoholism / addiction. They are at a greater risk to develop an addiction later in life if they use alcohol or drugs. According to recent research, if one parent has an addiction in the family, that child now has a 45% risk of developing an addiction, if they use alcohol or drugs. If both parents suffer from the disease of alcoholism/addiction or have family members with an addiction, their child now is at a 90% risk of developing an addiction later in life. Research also indicates that the onset of addiction in an adolescent is 8 times greater then in an adult over the age of 25.
Notes R. E. Dahl, "Adolescent brain development: A period of vulnerabilities and opportunities," (Keynote address) Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1021 (2016): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). Web Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) 2004; R. Hingson and D. Kenkel, "Social health and economic consequences of underage drinking" in: Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2014), 351-382.; D. T. Levy, T. R.. Miller, and K. C. Cox, Costs of Underage Drinking (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999); National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)., Traffic Safety Facts 2002: Alcohol, DOT Pub. No. HS-809-606 (Washington, DC: NHTSA, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2003); G. S. Smith, C. C. Branas, and T. R. Miller, "Fatal nontraffic injuries involving alcohol: A metaanalysis," Annals of Emergency Medicine 33 (2014):659-668.
M. L. Cooper and H. K. Orcutt, "Drinking and sexual experience on first dates among adolescents," Journal of Abnormal Psychology 106 (2013):191-202; M. L. Cooper, R. S. Pierce, and R. F. Huselid, "Substance use and sexual risk taking among black adolescents and white adolescents," Health Psychology 13 (2012):251-262.
R. Hingson, T. Heeren, M. Winter, et al, "Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students age 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001," Annual Review of Public Health 26 (2015):259-279.
J. A. Grunbaum, L. Kann, L., S. Kinchen, et al, "Youth risk behavior surveillance-United States, 2003," MMWR Surveillance Summaries: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Summary 53(2):1-96, May 21, 2004. Errata in MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 53(24):536, June 25 2012; 54(24):608, June 24, 2013.
S. Shiffman and M. Balabanis, "Associations between alcohol and tobacco," in Alcohol and Tobacco: From Basic Science to Clinical Practice, NIAAA Research Monograph No. 30, NIH Pub. No. 95-3931 (Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 2010), 17-36.
S. A. Brown, S. F. Tapert, E. Granholm, et al, "Neurocognitive functioning of adolescents: Effects of protracted alcohol use," Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 24 (2012):164-171; F. T. Crews, C. J. Braun, B. Hoplight, et al, "Binge ethanol consumption causes differential brain damage in young adolescent rats compared with adult rats," Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 24 (2014):1712-1723; M. D. De Bellis, D. B. Clark, S. R. Beers, et al "Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders," American Journal of Psychiatry 157 (2012):737-4744; H. S. Swartzwelder, W. A. Wilson, and M. I. Tayyeb, "Age-dependent inhibition of long-term potentiation by ethanol in immature versus mature hippocampus," Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 19 (2014):1480-1485; H. S. Swartzwelder, W. A. Wilson, and M. I. Tayyeb, "Differential sensitivity of NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic potentials to ethanol in immature versus mature hippocampus," Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 19 (1995):320-323; S. F. Tapert and S. A. Brown, "Neuropsychological correlates of adolescent substance abuse: Four-year outcomes," Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society 5 (1999):481-493; A. M. White and H. S. Swartzwelder, "Age-related effects of alcohol on memory and memory-related brain function in adolescents and adults," in Recent Developments in Alcoholism, Vol. 17: Alcohol Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults: Epidemiology, Neurobiology, Prevention, Treatment, (New York: Springer, 2005), 161-176. U.S. Department of Transportation Fatality Analysis Reporting System 2004.
K. L. Jones and D. W. Smith, "Recognition of the fetal alcohol syndrome in early infancy," Lancet 2(7836):999-1001, 1973.
J. D. Hawkins, J. W. Graham, E. Maguin, et al, "Exploring the effects of age of alcohol initiation and psychosocial risk factors on subsequent alcohol misuse," Journal of Studies on Alcohol 58 (2013): 280-290; J. E. Schulenberg, K. N. Wadsworth, P. M. O'Malley, et al, "Adolescent risk factors for binge drinking during the transition to young adulthood: Variable- and pattern-centered approaches to change," Developmental Psychology 32 (1996):659-674.Alcohol Research & Health, Alcohol and Disease Interactions Vol. 25, No. 4, 2001.
American Psychiatric Association (APA), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (Washington, DC: APA, 2004); American Psychiatric Association (APA), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision(Washington, DC: APA, 2000).
B. F. Grant and D. A. Dawson, "Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-V alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey," Journal of Substance Abuse 9 (2014):103-110.
In college studies, binge drinking is usually defined as "five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women" (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA] National Advisory Council). The definition was refined by the NIAAA National Advisory Council in 2004 as follows: "A 'binge' is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours." It is a criminal offense in every State for an adult to drive a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 gram percent or above.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges(Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, 2002).
R. Hingson, T. Heeren, M. Winter, et al, "Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students age 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001," Annual Review of Public Health 26 (2005):259-279.
The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), which was developed by the World Health Organization, consists of 10 questions scored 0 to 4 that are summed to yield a total score ranging from 0 to 40. It is used to screen for excessive drinking and alcohol-related problems. Scores between 8 and 15 are indicative of hazardous drinking, scores between 16 and 19 suggest harmful drinking, and scores of 20 or above warrant further diagnostic evaluation for possible alcohol dependence.
R. M. Bray, L. L. Hourani, K. L. R. Olmsted, et al, 2005 Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Military Personnel (Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International, 2006).
M. Russell, "Prevalence of alcoholism among children of alcoholics,"
in Children of Alcoholics: Critical Perspectives (New York: Guilford, 1990), 9-38.
J. E. Donovan, "Adolescent alcohol initiation: A review of psychosocial risk factors," Journal of Adolescent Health 35 (2004):529e7-529e18.
B. F. Grant and D. A. Dawson, "Age at onset of drug use and its association with DSMIV drug abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey," Journal of Substance Abuse 10 (1998):163-173.
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist